Tim Carney points out in an excellent column today that Republican appropriators -- once a strongly pro-spending bloc in the old GOP majorities -- have completely lost their cohesion as a political force. Among the reasons?
Short of kicking members off the committee, the chairman used to use earmarks -- the promise of more pork or the threat to strip existing pork -- to enforce loyalty from other appropriators. That's why Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., calls earmarks "the gateway drug to a spending addiction," and it's why banning them could save taxpayers much more than a more simplistic accounting would suggest.
Earmarks are really important in greasing the skids for bad bills like Obamacare, but they have an additional value as a disciplinary tool to be used against anyone who supports fiscal responsibility in other areas. Vote against us, and you lose your pork. Without earmarks, there is no punishment available for the appropriations chairman to mete out.