Tag Archives: Robert Byrd

When did earmarks become fashionable?

“Earmarks” used to be a four-letter word.

Republican members of Congress rose against them. They were eliminated. Now they’re back, thanks in large part to the insistence of, um, Republican members of Congress.

Earmarks are those items that lawmakers tuck — or sneak — into budgets. Remember the “Bridge to Nowhere” that the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens inserted into a budget? The “bridge” money went for a structure that, well, went nowhere in Alaska.

Stevens was scorned for that little game of fiscal chicanery.

Now it appears that earmarks are being resurrected. I don’t get it.

Republicans who now control both congressional chambers — and the White House — have forgotten how they won voters’ hearts in the first place. They are supposed to be the “party of fiscal responsibility.”

Earmarks are meant to allow lawmakers to bring “pork barrel” money to their states and congressional districts. Many House members and senators have been pretty damn good at it. The late Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd fattened the budget with money he directed to West Virginia. And get this. Former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, once bragged that he brought back so much “pork” to his home state that he was afraid of “coming down with trichinosis.”

I consider myself a deficit hawk, even though I also consider myself to be a left-leaning blogger. I don’t like earmarks any more than the next guy. They constitute government waste.

They’re coming back.

What happened to “draining the swamp,” eh? Mr. President? When are you going to pull the plug?

Where are all the tributes to Sen. Byrd?

We drove through a good bit of West Virginia and all along the way I kept looking for signs of a legendary U.S. senator’s penchant for pork-barrel legislation.

We saw barely a trace of it.

I refer to the late Robert Byrd, the king of pork barrel spending. You know, of course, that the term “pork barrel” defines money dumped into legislation that is meant to benefit a legislator’s district or state.

Byrd was the “best of the best” at funneling public money to his home state of West Virginia. I noted his pork-barrel proficiency in a previous blog post.

Robert Byrd, D-Pork Barrel

As we motored along Interstate I-64, I kept waiting to see evidence of this or that bridge or stretch of highway named after Sen. Byrd. I found a bridge with the Byrd name attached to it in Charleston — which also honors another famous native son, a guy named Gen. Chuck Yeager, the man of the “Right Stuff” and supersonic flight.

Oh, I’m sure there must be many myriad public buildings, parks, city streets and rural roads with Sen. Byrd’s name attached to them.

He wasn’t bashful about his lust for luring money to his home state. What the heck. Why should he care? His constituents kept sending back to Washington to do precisely what he did.

Term limits? I look at it this way: If West Virginians were dismayed at how Byrd represented them in Congress, they had the option of removing him from office. They call them “elections.”