Politics: Earmarks and Elections

A battle is being waged across the United States and even here in Montana. It’s the battle about earmarks – the once relatively important term that defined a congressional member’s clout in Congress – one that they could hang their reelection bid on because they delivered the pork to their home state or district.

As Bob Dylan sings, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”

A Little Montana History on Earmarks:

Earmarks became a major issue here in Montana way back in October 2006. It was during a Senatorial debate in Bozeman, Montana, where candidate Jon Tester proclaimed he was against earmarks, period. A few weeks later, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid promised candidate Tester an influential committee assignment if he was elected. It was just not any seat; it was a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee – the earmark committee. Reid wanted to ensure voters in Montana knew they would not miss a beat in getting earmarks since the incumbent Republican Senator had so successfully brought home the bacon from that committee for about 15 years.

After elected, Jon Tester changed his tune citing “light of day” or “transparency” or “open process” being the reason he’s for earmarks now after he was so much against them.

The comments made by Tester and his flip-flop on the earmark issue have, and will, become a major campaign issue.

Here We Are Today:

But the tide has changed on earmarks and federal spending. A 200,000 candle-powered spotlight won’t shed enough “light” on earmarks and Federal spending. People want cuts in spending, period, and earmarks are an easy target besides being a good place to start in my humble opinion. They don’t like “Ports and Bridges to Nowhere.”

It’s More Than Earmarks in Montana:

It is fun to watch the little battle about earmarks here in Big Sky Country, but it’s not just about earmarks, it’s about elections. It’s about who will run against Tester, and damaging him with his own words so he won’t even be able to mount a campaign. Is Rehberg softening up Tester with body blows to run against him or is he just helping his party make Tester more vulnerable so some other lesser-known candidate can defeat him.

Although Tester is up for reelection in 2012, Baucus is even more vulnerable. He is on the ropes with personal scandals and the healthcare debacle hurting him. Being four years away from his election day, there are polls already out there asking about his favorable/unfavorable ratings, along with Republican Taylor Brown and Democrat (or possibly an Independent) Brian Schweitzer.

The Earmark Battle in Montana:

Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg was the first (and so far the only) member of the three member Montana Congressional delegation to forego earmarks.

So Rehberg lobbed a November 18, 2010, letter at his fellow delegation members, Democratic Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus, urging them to join him. It was also sent to the Montana media. Here’s a snippet from the Rehberg press release:

Senate Democrats may be the last 53 people in the country who haven’t noticed the old spending games won’t fly anymore,” said Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Last year, I joined House Republicans in a voluntary earmark moratorium. Now Democratic President Obama and Governor Schweitzer are hailing the foresight of this leadership and urging their Party allies to fall in line. Earmarks are headed toward extinction. It’s high time for Senate Democrats to heed the voice of the American voter.

Baucus was the first to return fire. He penned a November 23, 2010, letter back at Rehberg saying,

Montanans know the best way to tackle the deficit is to get folks back to work and grow our economy. The Montanans I talk to want us to support real solutions like infrastructure projects and tax cuts that will bring good-paying jobs to Montana – not political stunts from party bosses in Washington.

It even contained a pie chart! It was also sent to the media, but it did not get a lot of attention.

One of my friends said the country would be out of debt if a dime was given to the Federal Treasury every time Max Baucus said or wrote “good-paying jobs.”

Being the new person on the block and up for reelection in 2012, Jon Tester took some time and carefully calculated his response. I did not see a direct response to Rehberg, but Tester did try the carpet bomb approach in this little battle. On December 3, 2010, he penned “An Open Letter to All Montanans” that appeared in a few newspapers across the state. He wrote:

Unlike some Washington bureaucrat who sits in a cubicle all day, I know Montana. I know some parts of our state don’t even have clean drinking water. I drive thousands of miles of highways that need to be maintained in order to keep our businesses and communities strong.

Several newspapers across Montana did unscientific polls and all the ones that I saw agree with Rehberg’s stance. Therein lies a problem for Tester now and for Baucus down the road.

Some folks who don’t enjoy politics probably hate seeing the little battles between the members of Montana Congressional delegation. For those of us who follow politics, it’s just a game we enjoy watching – and you can bet the games will continue.

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  1. Pingback: Bozeman Earmark Debate Video – Ten Miles to Nowhere

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