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Romney shifts attack ads from Gingrich to Santorum

February 7, 2012 |  5:30 am

Rick Santorum in Colorado
When your campaign is swimming in cash, it's relatively easy to roll out new lines of attack as your rivals' standing ebbs and flows. So it is with Mitt Romney, who reportedly is paying more heed to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (and less to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) as Santorum's poll numbers have started to rebound.

The issue Romney has chosen to pummel Santorum about? It's the latter's ability as a member of Congress to funnel money to his home state. Or, to put it less benignly, Santorum's support for "pork barrel" politics.

In my role here as the defender of the indefensible, let me reiterate my position -- unpopular here at The Times -- that earmarks aren't budget-busters. Retroactively canceling every pork-barrel project ever written into a bill wouldn't narrow the federal budget gap in a noticeable way.

Contrary to what former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (now a Romney backer) suggested in a statement Monday, earmarks aren't necessarily "wasteful spending." Most of the time, they're simply a case of members of Congress exerting control over dollars that otherwise would be left to federal or state officials to spend. And increasingly, earmarks reflect lawmakers' desire to write into law the priorities set by their state and local officials.

You could argue that the country would be better off without that kind of interference between lawmakers and bureaucrats. And you can certainly make a case that earmarks are a corrupting influence, given how much effort lobbyists have made in years past to win them for their clients. But it's laughable to say, as Pawlenty does, that supporting the pork-barrel system renders someone incapable of tackling Washington's budget problems.

If that's what Pawlenty really believes is behind the trillion-dollar federal deficit, it's a good thing he dropped out of the race.

ALSO:

Career politicians for Mitt?

A Puritan's "war against religion"

Isn't that Marge Simpson behind that veil?

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Rick Santorum campaigning Monday in Colorado, pleading for votes, not earmarks. Credit:  Chris Carlson / Associated Press

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