The Political Courage Of Michele Bachmann

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“It’s all bad, as far as I’m concerned,” Michele Bachmann announced in April, in an appearance on Fox Business. “All this pork is bad. The old pork was bad. The new pork is bad.”

But she didn’t mean it. In an interview Monday with a homestate newspaper, she said she doesn’t think transportation projects should count as earmarks.

“Advocating for transportation projects for one’s district in my mind does not equate to an earmark. . . . I don’t believe that building roads and bridges and interchanges should be considered an earmark,” Bachmann said. “There’s a big difference between funding a tea pot museum and a bridge over a vital waterway.”

For anybody who has followed the debate over earmarks, this is a breathtaking retreat by someone who presents herself as Tea Party purist. Transportation projects are, after all, among the most blatantly abused slices of the pig. Remember the “Bridge To Nowhere” in Alaska, a $398 million bridge designed for an area where traffic was unlikely to exceed about 1,000 vehicles a day? That was a transportation earmark. And given the limited amount of money available, it was a direct assault on the nation’s far more pressing transportation needs.

A 2007 report by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General found the following:

–First, earmarks can reduce funding for the states’ core transportation programs.

–Second, earmarks do not always coincide with DOT strategic research goals.

–Third, many low priority, earmarked projects are being fudned over higher priority, non-earmarked projects.

–Fourth, earmarks provide funds for projects that would other wise be ineligible.

–Fifth, earmarks can disrupt the agency’s ability to fund programs as designated when authorized funding amounts are exceeded by over-earmarking.

In other words, transportation earmarks are exactly at the heart of the earmarking problem, allowing for powerful members of Congress to abuse the public purse for their own constituents’ gain. “It’s absolutely one of the critical areas to not have earmarks,” explains Steve Ellis, of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We need to make sure we are making the highest priority projects, rather than divvying up the money to the most powerful lawmakers.”

Think of this the next time you see or hear Bachmann stand up and take a fiscally responsible stand. She is for fiscal responsibility, as long as her people still get paid, which, it must be said, is pretty much the status quo in Congress.