Commentary: Earmark reform is worth trying

Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican who represents the congressional district that stretches from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and from the Sierra Nevada to the Oregon border, has been nothing if not consistent on earmarks. These are funds that members of Congress request for specific projects. McClintock signed a "no earmarks" pledge in 2008, and he has kept to that.

But rather than reform the process, he would prohibit all earmarking. This is extreme. Local members of Congress know their communities better than anyone else in the nation' capital; they are best positioned to request federal projects (such as flood control, roads, wastewater treatment, research facilities, etc.).

As President Barack Obama has said, "Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination."

The problem, as McClintock and Obama have observed, is that some projects, in Obama's words, get "inserted at the 11th hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest." That is what needs fixing.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama pledged to return earmarks to 1994 levels. That was the year Republicans won a majority in Congress and earmarks began to explode. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, earmarks went from 1,318 in 1994 to a peak of 13,997 in 2005.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.