So how’s that "symbolic protest" over earmarks working for you now?
For years, Republicans in Congress, Republicans wanting to be in Congress and Fox News, wanting more Republican viewers, all hammered away at the evils of earmarks.
They said the national debt was out of control; we had to control federal spending. The way to control spending was to stop earmarks because it would be a symbolic step, they said.
Presumably, if we could make the symbols dance, then we could cut the military budget, Social Security and Medicaid entitlements and the budget deficit would waste away.
Not mentioned was the fact that the national budget is $1.1 trillion and earmarks at their most generous are calculated to be $8.3 billion.
But, for the politically opportunistic, slicing earmarks is easy to understand and easy to make fun of. You call earmarks pork barrel and make oink, oink noises, dress up like pigs and everyone understands that it is bad.
First the GOP-controlled U.S. House took the "no more earmarks" pledge. And while Hawaii’s senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye battled to preserve earmarks, President Barack Obama announced he would veto any bill with earmarks.
Inouye was forced to fold.
Across the country the GOP gloated: "It’s getting lonely at the pork trough."
It is also getting a lot stupider.
The federal money not spent on earmarks is not saved, the money is already appropriated — if Inouye and crew don’t spend it, then Obama will. That is why Obama was so willing to side with the symbols.
Having your own representatives help guide federal money to your state is one of the reasons we send men and women to Congress — and Inouye argued, apparently in vain, that either he has a hand in spending the federal money or some federal bureaucrat who doesn’t know Honolulu from Hoboken will make the call.
Inouye’s earmarks were mostly directed at pumping up our tiny high-tech industry. So now it is time for the Republicans to come and explain how losing $321 million in federal funds for high-tech development will help Hawaii.
"There has been a lot of activity in the last four or five years. Lack of the earmarks is going to hurt," says Harold Masumoto, project director for Hawaii Technology Development Venture, a part of the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research.
"Without the cash flow, there is a definite hit to innovative small businesses building the workforce, bringing revenue to the state, and keeping the USA safe and our renewable energy sustainable," says Adelheid Kuehnle, president and CEO of Kuehnle AgroSystems, a high-tech firm that has not gotten any earmarks.
Kuehnle, who has been named University of Hawaii scientist of the year and winner of the 2008 Hawaii Technology Industry Award, says the federal investment makes local companies grow and gives them the ability to hire local scientists. Her firm has four Ph.D.s on staff, including three local hires.
Meanwhile local high-tech firms are trying to figure out a way around the loss of earmarks, hoping that Inouye can reroute the federal money back to Hawaii.
As for the GOP’s earmark victory, perhaps Republicans can symbolically hire a few out-of-work Hawaii scientists.
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.