Complaining about earmarks is a staple of U.S. politics. The specific projects that members of Congress tack on to spending bills have long sparked public outrage. For most Americans, the idea of building a $320 million bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska (population 7,368), to the island of Gravina (population 50)—the so-called Bridge to Nowhere—is laughable. So is the idea of spending money to study the DNA of grizzly bears. And who besides residents of South Carolina wants the federal government to fund a convention center in Myrtle Beach?
But many of the complaints about earmarks are disingenuous, and some are overblown. Disingenuous, because politicians who complain are usually seeking earmarks of their own. After having elevated earmark spending to an art form for a decade, the Republicans last month objected that the Democrats’ spending bill was loaded with earmarks—even though 40 percent of them were sponsored by Republicans themselves.