Alaska's senators couldn't do much more than grumble about the ban on earmarks, that congressional appropriation method by which home state projects have been specifically funded.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, whose state of Hawaii has long benefited from earmarks and who often worked that system in partnership with the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, said he was imposing the ban in a simple recognition of reality. President Obama has said he'll veto any bill that carries an earmark. Fellow Democrat Inouye is taking the president at his word -- and also counting on a year's absence to make his colleagues' hearts grow fonder for earmarks.
Earmarks earned a bad name in two ways: process and the popularity of the phrase "Bridge to Nowhere." The latter referred to federal money for either the bridge from Ketchikan to its island airport or the Knik Arm crossing, and both spans won national notoriety as examples of needless federal spending. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lamented that the bridge line had a long life, to Alaska's detriment.
But the real problem has been process -- millions of dollars of spending quietly tucked into budgets with little hearing or vetting. Critics decried the practice as special-interest porkfests that fattened budgets and swelled the deficit -- and did so in the dark.
Defenders, including the Alaska delegation of Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich and Rep. Don Young, argue that earmarks allow states and local governments to win federal funding for the projects their communities most want and need, rather than letting federal agencies set the agenda.
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