Alex Massie

If I am corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district...

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There are those who say that John Murtha's mastery of the federal budget process has made the slab-faced Pennsylvania Democrat the posterboy for the need to overhaul the earmark process that delivers federal money to Congressional districts across the country and goes some way towards ensuring that, absent the proverbial presence of a dead girl or a live boy, it's exceedingly difficult to defeat a sitting member. Murtha has brought billions of dollars of bacon back to his Johnstown constituency and become a hate-figure for reform-minded good-government types. Not that the Congressman gives a damn:

"If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district" Mr. Murtha said. "My job as a member of Congress is to make sure that we take care of what we see is necessary. Not the bureaucrats who are unelected over there in whatever White House, whether it's Republican or Democrat. Those bureaucrats would like to control everything. Every president would like to have all the power and not have Congress change anything. But we're closest to the people."

It's unfashionable to admit this, but Murtha is correct. If the federal government spends trillions of dollars, that money has to go somewhere. Why shouldn't his constituents share some of the prizes? Granted, this is not an especially high-minded view of government, but is there much evidence to support the notion that the good people of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth actually desire paragons of civic virtue representing them in Washington? I suspect there is not.

Mr Murtha continues:

He doubts earmarks will ever vanish, because once he leaves the District of Columbia, the cry stops.

"That's only in Washington," he said of the complaints. "That's not out in the field. Out in the field people appreciate what has happened. They see the advantage to being able to help the district.

"And every district's the same."

This is also true. Your district's pork is my district's essential investment in infrastructure. Murtha is right to argue that it's only in Washington that people care about this. And people in Washington only care about it because it's something simple to focus upon that permits one to ignore the much greater fiscal problems looming in the future. To the extent that earmarks are a problem they are a symptom not a cause of the matter. So, yes, many of them may be of questionable merit and the cosy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists (particularly those who, like Murtha, sit on defense appropriations committees) might raise an eyebrow or two. But that's what the people want, by and large. Heck, even Ron Paul pushes earmarks for his district since, again, the money is going to be


spent somewhere so some of it might as well be funnelled to the folks back home what sent me here...

And anyway, "If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district" is a great line. 


Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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