Earmarks Don't Waste Taxpayer's Money, Politicians Do

By Dr. Duru written for One-Twenty

September 14, 2008

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Election 2008 has placed a spotlight on earmarks which are often considered a hallmark of waste in government spending. Factcheck.org defines earmarks as "allocations of revenue in a bill that are directed to a specific project or recipient typically in a legislatorís home state or district. The Office of Management and Budget defines them as congressional funds whose recipient has been specified without adherence to the 'competitive allocation process.'"

Both sides of the aisle freely use earmarks, but we also have efforts from Democrats and Republicans to get earmarks under control. In the "2007 Pig Book Summary," the Citizens Against Government Waste report that:

"This yearís Pig Book breaks a run of seven consecutive years of record dollar amounts of pork, culminating in $29 billion in the 2006 Congressional Pig Book. This lesser barrel of pork can be attributed to the efforts of Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who prevented the enactment of nine appropriations bills in December, 2006, and the subsequent moratorium on earmarks announced and enforced by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairmen David Obey (D-Wis.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in H. J. Res. 20, the bill that funds the government for the remainder of fiscal 2007...Based on historical figures, the enactment of H. J. Res. 20 eliminated more than 7,000 earmarks and saved between $12-$15 billion in pork-barrel spending."

Factcheck.org also reports that recent federal rules and regulations also make it easier to sniff out earmarks and their sponsors: "Members of the House must now claim their earmarks, identify what the money is for and who will benefit, and state that they have no financial interests in the earmarks. Senate members must make available a list of earmarks, their sponsors and governmental purposes, and post such information online within 48 hours of any vote on a bill."

All in all, it seems we are on the right track here toward fiscal responsibility in government. However, eliminating earmarks will not solve our alarming Federal deficit because earmarks represent about 1% of Federal spending. Additionally, the savings from eliminating one form of government waste can be forwarded to other forms of wasteful spending. The issue is not the earmark per se, but the politicians who seek ways and means for funding pet projects with Federal tax dollars. Earmarks do not waste money, politicians do. Heck, some of these projects can sound like great ideas, especially for the locals who benefit.

For a good example of these nuances, watch Charles Gibson's interview (part 2) with Repbulican VP nominee Sarah Palin. Per capita, Alaska and Hawaii lead the nation in pork barrel allocations. Yet, two examples that Gibson provides of Alaskan earmark waste sound like great ideas for enviromentalists - research into the genetics of harbor seals and the mating habits of crabs - and I love the environment. Palin also tells Gibson that the now infamous "bridge to nowhere" could still be built if Alaskans find other sources of (non-federal) funding. Overall, Palin puts up a spirited defense against Gibson's barrage and in the end insists that "abuse of earmarks will stop" under her administration. Of course, defining "abuse" is up to interpretation. I just hope that we taxpayers seize upon this small spotlight on government spending to widen the scrutiny on spending throughout all of government. We should keep up the pressure no matter what the White House or Congress looks like next year or in the years to come and no matter our individual politics and dogma (yes - easier said than done!). This is an issue of governance and putting value in our future fiscal soundness and not just an issue of political campaigning.

(Quick aside - I have found Factcheck.org to be an EXCELLENT resource for getting beyond the caustic rhetoric of political campaigning)

Be careful out there!

Full disclosure: No related stock positions. I am also an Obama supporter, but I yearn for non-partisan cooperation in healing our ailing America. I support several non-partisan watchdog and activist organizations that strive for fiscal responsibility, including the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Concord Coalition, and I am fan of the movie I.O.U.S.A. For other disclaimers click here.

© DR. DURU®, 2008