Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"GRAY BLIND": Sen. Jon Kyl Tries The Nuance Dance Along the Blurry Line Of Earmarks

A fun week for Arizona's junior Senator Jon Kyl.  First, came the attention regarding his line-drawing (in the sand) regarding the START treaty.  Now, the apparently-blurry line between an earmark and a settlement has drawn him to the forefront of the political debate.  The timeline:

1) Last Friday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that settles claims against the federal government by Black farmers, and American Indians.  The Democrats introduced offsetting spending cuts, and the Republicans - by Jon Kyl - added amendments extending temporary benefits for poor families and for a program for the White Mountain Apache Tribe as part of a water rights claim settlement.

2) The same day, Kyl put out a carefully-worded  news release trumpeting his role in getting the water rights claim settlement passed.  Interestingly, he did not specify the $200 Million figure.  He does note that the legal case was mainly settled in 2004 and that he first introduced the provision for the $200M Miner Flat Dam and Reservoir in 2008.

3) The next business day (11/22), Kyl released his feelings about earmarks and the latest pushes to ban them.  "...Important to stop the practice altogether," vs. "Of course, an earmark ban is not a single solution... and not all earmarks are wasteful."

4) The following day (11/23), colleague Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) took to the floor to blast Kyl's move: "I do know an earmark when I see it. And this, my friends, is an earmark."  The Associated Press published a report that night concluding that Leahy is correct and that Kyl is guilty of hypocrisy. (Lede: "Senate Republicans' ban on earmarks - money included in a bill by a lawmaker to benefit a home-state project or interest - was short-lived.")

5) Many voters (and some members of the media) have well-documented problems dealing with nuance, and some Tea Partiers are no exception.  Slate found one (in Maine, no less) who suggested that this is an example of why the Tea Partiers have to keep a close eye on the Grand Old Partiers.

6)  Fortunately, not everyone in the media is blind to nuance.  Talking Points Memo (left-leaning) just published a good piece explaining some of the nuances, complete with interviews with Taxpayers for Common Sense and Citizens Against Government Waste.

One thing that I have tried to ascertain - so far, unsuccessfully - is whether the $200M for the White Mountain Apaches is actually settling a portion of the water rights claims litigation or if that is really just cover for a cool, new project.  (If anyone has information that might help make that distinction, please let me know.)

But, the bottom line (for now) is that there is no fine line on whether this is an earmark or not.  Sen. Kyl seems to be doing his best to walk that blurry line - even as Leahy and the Democrats try to knock him off.  And, as much as we might like to see everyone understand the "grays" in between "black" and "white", that is not reasonable;  too many citizens and too many politicians are "gray-blind".  The "Nuance Dance" is a hard one to pull off without looking like you are doing the "Flip Flop."

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