Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Role of Government II

As a follow-up to yesterday's post regarding Congressman Minnick's position on earmarks, I wanted to briefly mention the column running in the Idaho Statesman from Congressman Simpson (R-Idaho), the representative of my district. Perhaps this commentary merely serves to point out the double-edged sword of being an elected Democrat from this state.

Strangely enough, the longer Congressman Simpson is in office, the more I come around to respecting his positions. I have appreciated the more moderate social positions he has taken of late, instead of the all-too-often "keep government out of our lives" Republican/Libertarian approach, Simpson appears to understand that government must step in when the general welfare requires it. He makes a few key points in his column that are worth repeating:
I believe the most appropriate reform of the earmark system is not to ban them outright, but to expose them to the light of day and allow every American citizen a chance to see them and comment on them ...

The projects I have submitted are focused largely on growing the Idaho National Laboratory and the jobs it provides for eastern Idaho, expanding course offerings at Idaho's colleges and universities, improving Idaho's water and transportation infrastructure, preserving and conserving Idaho's native species and public lands, and growing jobs and opportunities in Idaho's high-tech and health-related economies.

Having read my fair share of congressional correspondence, I realize that both Simpson and Minnick must be receiving a wealth of input from Idahoans, both those for and against earmarks, and I realize that their respective congressional staffs are wading through that information daily. They can't possibly respond to every single want articulated to them by their constituents just as they can't possibly request funding for every single project that desperately needs support. Where Simpson gets it right is in addressing why these earmarks are important right now.

There are a myriad of projects that are deserving of funding, but he makes sure to point out the projects that will create jobs, keep jobs, and keep local economies (like that of the City of Idaho Falls) running. Minnick seems to have misunderstood that in standing up against earmarks and a bloated budget he is denying various interests in Idaho from continuing to compete in this tanking economy. It is one thing to take a principled stand, it is another to take a stand that hurts your constituency in the long-run. What Minnick is doing is no different than what Bill Sali did when he proposed an anti-gravity bill to illustrate the insanity of some of the legislation that goes to the floor of the House for consideration. However, Sali's action merely made a laughing-stock of his constituency, it didn't cost his constituency any federal monies.

I want more than anything to give Congressman Minnick a fair shake and I, more than most, understand the paradox of a Democratic congressman from Idaho, but there has to be a line. When election day rolls around will Congressman Minnick be able to say he was instrumental in bringing home the funding for various projects? Not when it comes to the FY 2010 budget. And, Minnick's ability to say he was opposed to and voted against Obama's stimulus package will only help him so much.

I understand the fundamental opposition to earmarks just as I understand the real need for federal investment in state-specific projects. What I don't understand is why a congressman, any congressman, can make such a bold statement against earmarks during a time when his state, or any state, needs as much assistant as they can possibly get. Once again I find myself pondering the role of government.

The earmarks being requested by Congressman Simpson are available for viewing on his congressional website.

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