Friday, December 30, 2011

In the 'Battle of the Ricks' Earmarks Return as a Campaign Issue

A Rick Perry sponsored ad airing in Iowa attacks Rick Santorum for his record on appropriations earmarks. This conincides with an apparent Santorum surge in Iowa.

Perry highlights Santorum's vote in favor of the transportation funding bill that included the infamous "bridge to nowhere" project. Perry claims that Santorum was responsible for $1 billion in earmarks over his 16 year congressional career.

The Perry ad includes an audio clip of Santorum touting his earmarks: "I have had a lot of earmarks...In fact I'm very proud of all the earmarks I've put in bills."

By attacking Santorum for earmarking Perry is unearthing a tactic he used successfully against Kay Bailey Hutchinson in the Texas GOP Gubernatorial primary. During that campaign the Perry campaign produced a video/song based on ABBA's "Dancing Queen" titled "Earmark Queen" to criticize Hutchinson for her earmarks. (The lyrics are here; the video was quickly removed from the web due to potential copyright infringement).

Earmarks are a convenient device that can be used to highlight the "Washington insider" status of politicians like Hutchinson and Perry's current foe, Santorum. Perry and Santorum are competing for many of the same religious conservatives, and Perry would likely benefit from Santorum's defectors. Perry might decide to employ the same tactic against Michelle Bachman who also has appeal to religious conservatives and, like Santorum, can be tied to at least one specific earmark-like project. Bachmann's latest problems in Iowa may be enough to obviate an attack on her.

Earmarks are an easy device for governors to employ.  They do not have a direct hand in generating earmarks, allowing them to distance themselves from the projects, while benefiting from the results. Without a doubt Texas was a big winner in the earmark race. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense data for 2010 alone, Texas benefited from $1.9 billion in earmarks.

In a single year Rick Perry's state received almost twice the amount in earmarks that Rick Santorum generated in his entire 16 year congressional career. But, like Sarah Palin before him ("I said 'thanks but no thanks' to that bridge to nowhere"), Perry can claim that he opposes earmarks because his fingerprints are not directly associated with the earmarks, even though his state was clearly a beneficiary.

One can only wonder how much the "Texas Economic Miracle" benefited from the investment of federal dollars, including those that went to the state via earmarks.