Republicans target earmarks in campaign

September 11, 2008 8:10:05 PM PDT
Earmarks are becoming an increasingly important issue in the presidential campaign. A Congressional earmark is money in a bill that has been designated, or earmarked, by a member of Congress. The earmark allows the money to be spent without going through committee review or normal competitive bidding - that is why a lot of seemingly wasteful projects get funded through earmarks.

Republican Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin are firing up their supporters by promising to reform earmark spending and blaming Democrats for embracing the practice.

"I'm going to veto every single pork barrel pig spending bill," McCain said.

"We reformed the abuses of earmarks in our state," Palin said.

Palin does not talk about her own efforts to get earmarks when she was mayor of Wasilla, Ak. She hired a lobbyist to bring in $27 million to a town of 6,700 people.

But John McCain has never requested an earmark, making him an exception in Congress, where most members pride themselves on bringing home the bacon.

This year, 11,524 earmarks totaled $16.5 billion.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi got $174 million to reimburse salmon fishermen when the season was called off. The Tahoe Basin got $4 million for water and environmental infrastructure projects, $11 million went to the Third Street Light Rail project in San Francisco and $1.9 million went towards improvements to BART in Oakland ? all things communities want.

ABC7 asked linguistics professor George Lakoff, an expert on how language effects political debate, why earmarks as seen as bad.

"There are two cognitive mechanisms that are at work here, one is a well known example, of something like the bridge to nowhere," Lakoff said.

The Bridge to Nowhere, a $250 million bridge to a small island in Alaska, made headlines, but legitimate projects do not, Lakoff said. All voters hear about are the abuses.

"That's the only thing they know," Lakoff said. "So it becomes the normal case; cognitively they take an outrageous case and treat it as a normal case."

Complaining about earmarks also fits nicely into the Republican theme of government waste, Lakoff said.

"Has it been abused in every case? No. Has it been abused in the majority of cases? I can't say, but I can say from my experience in Washington, earmarks are a tool of abuse by the powerful against those who don't have the power," Duf Sundheim, former chair of the California Republican Party said.

Related Link:
Look up Congressional earmarks


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