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The 'small-ball' Republicans

A propos of Lindsey Graham's decidedly awkward "Meet the Press" two-step, in which he defended the virtue of his own earmarks even as he urged President Obama to veto the budget for containing too many earmarks (video below), Mark Schmitt makes a sharp point:

[F]or the moment, Republicans are far more dependent than Democrats on their ability to take some credit for federally funded projects. In the world with earmarks, Lindsay Graham is able to stand against the president on stimulus, on the budget, on Iraq, on health care. And then he's able to go home, cut a ribbon, get his picture in the paper, and tell everyone that he delivered the money for the new Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

But in a world without earmarks, what does Lindsay Graham bring home? Just words, and great stories about how he fought bravely against health care and economic stimulus. Whereas a Democrat in a world without earmarks will be able to go home, ideally, and tell her constituents that she supported a popular president, that she helped rescue the economy, that she's moving us toward universal health care.

Congress works on two levels -- a game of big decisions with lasting consequences, and a small-ball game, mainly concentrated in Appropriations.... The small-ball game, being "Senator Pothole," is a form of protection for legislators who can't or won't participate in the bigger decisions. 

Take away the small-ball game, of which earmarks are a significant part, and Republican members of Congress and Senators face a bit of a dilemma: Are they really willing to spend 2009 and 2010, years of extraordinary hardship for their constituents, with nothing positive to boast about?

Here's the clip:


--Christopher Orr