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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

The recent November elections had a heavy focus on conservative fiscal policy and an emphasis on cutting "big government spending." In light of this, "[Sen. Claire] McCaskill and fellow Democrat Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.) recently teamed up with Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) to introduce an earmark amendment to the Food Safety Modernization Act that would impose a three-year ban on pork spending. Unlike the Senate GOP’s moratorium, this ban would be binding." (For a good laugh, listen to Laura Ingraham's recent interview with Sen. McCaskill.)

I don't know what to make of this proposed legislation. On one hand, the whole notion of earmarks and pork barrel spending encourages many impractical pet projects from doofy legislators. To see their ban would send a message to the fiscally irresponsible politicians, on both sides of the aisle, who misuse (our) federal tax dollars. On the other hand, "eliminating 100 percent of earmarks in fiscal 2010 would have cut the federal budget by less than one-half of one percent." In other words, earmarks are close to the least of our worries. My fear is that this legislation will give the American people an illusion of government fiscal restraint, while our politicians continue to spend recklessly, causing a rather unwarranted feeling of security or success.

I suppose I'm glad at the prospect of eliminating earmarks. It will probably make me less skeptical of government spending... by about .5%. I hope John Boehner has more creative ideas for his new House.


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  1. I think if you look at this issue from another angle, it makes more sense. For just .5% of government spending, why is there such resistance from Congressional Leadership (on both sides of the aisle) against getting rid of them? That's the question to ask. Once you ask it and looks closely, you see why.

    Earmarks are an effective tool to manipulate Congressional voting blocks.

    Take "Legislation A" that does not stand-alone well and cannot muster majority support.

    Then take "Project B" that favors one group of people (say, a state or city) at the expense of all others. As a stand-alone project B could never pass legislatively if introduced alone.

    But what if I told you that the way Congress does business now often leads to Legislation A passing while (and because) it includes project B?

    It happens all the time and earmarks are what makes it possible.

    Congressional Leadership can pass legislation that a minority wants if they will throw in pet projects (in the form of earmarks) that people who wouldn't otherwise want the legislation want. See, they can go back home and tout the fact that they got project B funded and put in place (a targeted benefit) while refusing to call attention to the bad legislation they passed (a dispersed cost).

    When costs are dispersed but benefits targeted, that's where corruption and vote buying will most emerge and where special interests most come to play.

    So - because of earmarks - you end up with bad legislation that includes bad and wasteful projects.

    Votes are bought through earmarking grants.

    It's like logrolling, but unlike traditional logrolling, it's a crack-cocaine version ...

    Without earmarks big, bad, costly legislation is less able to be forced through.

    Get rid of earmarking, and you get rid of the "lever" through which some of our worst legislation has been passed.

  2. I can't tell whether this is a ploy to get Democrats to vote against the bill in the lame duck session or shame Republicans into voting for it.

    Any Republican who now votes against this bad bill will be painted as voting for earmarks.

  3. What 'Drex Davis said...'
    Earmarks = Bribes for the few to pass big legislation that sucks for us all.

  4. In support of Drex Davis,

    Pundit: Earmarks are a tiny part of the budget. Only $16 billion, about 1%.
    Congressman: Yeah, I'll just take a tiny $20 million for my friends and myself.

    Eliminate Earmarks

    Cato@Liberty by Jim Harper [edited] :
    Earmarks are not a huge part of the federal budget, but we should end them anyway. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) calls them a “gateway drug to federal spending addiction,” which is a folksy way of talking about political “log-rolling.” Former Congressman Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) has seen it first-hand. He explains (video 4:00) how House and Senate leaders use earmarks to buy votes on legislation they want passed.

    If earmarks go away as a tool for wheeling-and-dealing in Congress, members and senators will be less likely to sell out the country as a whole with bloated spending bills and Rube-Goldberg regulatory projects for the benefit of some local interest or campaign contributor.

  5. Professor, your argument was used against John McCain in the 2008 election by none other than Obama himself.

    My rebuttal (and what should have been McCain's rebuttal) is, "Hey, at least it's a start."

    Getting the ball rolling towards fiscal responsibility and fixing government corruption MUST start somewhere; why not with earmarks?

  6. Plenty of us great-unwashed gardeners see SB510 as giving DHS/TSA & the IRS, direct jurisdiction of our respective patches.

    I don't see why a number of conservatives blithely dismiss the unconstitutional intrusiveness & central planning contrivances of this so-called food safety bill.

    The Government in your Garden is a line in the sand for many.

    Many of us understand how turning corn into gas only drives up food prices up, & this, just as hyper-inflation hits due to all the printed money.

    Not to mention the fact that recent wheat production has been lower globally.

    The word 'confluence' comes to mind.

    I've got plan, lets open a TSA desk in your garden shack.

    Don't forget, the same bunch that wrote ObamaCare, wrote SB510.