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Public’s mindset about earmarks must change

During his hot-blooded adolescence, while grappling with the urgency of conversion and the pleasures of the flesh, St. Augustine, of the famous ‘‘Confessions,’’ is said to have prayed: ‘‘Lord, grant me chastity and self-control — but not just yet.’’

President Barack Obama may have uttered something similar to himself Wednesday. He delivered a speech criticizing pet spending project earmarks in the morning and announcing new guidelines designed to curb them. Then, in the afternoon, away from the cameras, signed a $410 billion spending bill containing at least 8,500 earmarks costing more than $7.7 billion. …

It is possible to defend some earmarks, and some members of Congress do so publicly, arguing that, as the representatives of their home districts, they know its needs better than faraway bureaucrats to whom a new recreation center or swimming pool is nothing more than a mark on a gigantic ledger page.

Some earmarks may be defensible, but they are often the source of the subtle corruption that permeates the entire appropriations process. …

Obama’s reform proposals are modest. Congress members would have to publish on their Web sites all requests they make to appropriations committees — currently they only have to publish those that are granted.

Agencies would have 20 days to deem proposals inappropriate, and agencies would have to conduct competitive bidding for earmarks targeted to private companies — but not for state and local government agencies (as if they never waste money).

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-West Chester, and Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, and Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, have limited their use of earmarks. Boehner and Jordan have been on the same side of trying to limit them as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But we all know the limited influence any Republican member of Congress, particularly those in the House, have right now.

… Earmarks are mostly egregious, but until the public mind-set changes away from seeing Washington as a giant piggy bank that can be raided any time and toward a serious demand for smaller, more limited government, earmarks will persist. …

The Lima News