Sunday, November 15, 2009

Earmarks Reflect a Bigger Problem

At the height of the 2008 Presidential campaign, John McCain finally began to make traction in one important area, which was earmarks. McCain, who was never a purist in the eyes of most conservatives when it came to government spending, did have an excellent track record in this area compared to Barack Obama. Generally, most Americans were more comfortable with McCain over Obama on this issue.

Although this issue gathered some stream for a short period of 2008, in 2009 it has fallen entirely off the radar screen, thanks to multi-trillion dollar bailouts and an exploding national debt. It simply does not seem that important to most policy makers.

This is too bad, because earmarks are an excellent indicator of the moral decay in the Congress and the total disregard of elected officials when it comes to taxpayer dollars. A few months ago, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released its annual Congressional Pig Book, which went largely unnoticed by the media. In it, the book revealed over 10,000 earmarks, worth $19.6 billion from 11,610 in fiscal year 2008 to 10,160 in fiscal year 2009, the total tax dollars spent to fund them increased by 14 percent, from $17.2 billion to $19.6 billion.

Tom Schatz, the President of CAGW noted that "Everyone in Washington has promised a new era of transparency and restraint in earmarks, from President Obama to the leaders of both parties in Congress. Sadly, the hard numbers from the 2009 appropriations bills tell a different story. The current Democratic congressional majority is following the same trajectory as their Republican predecessors. They came into power promising to cut earmarks, and made a big show of it during their first two years. However, as the 2009 Pig Book amply illustrates, pork-barrel spending is growing fast." That is largely the story of pork. It is an excellent target of cowardly politicians fighting for the political life, but is no longer an issue when elected officials sit in decision making.

The new transparency rules were intended to get ridiculous bills out in the light, however CAGW uncovered over 220 earmarks worth over $7.8 billion that violated Congress's own rules. The book is only a "best of" the worst forms of government spending. There are many more not in the book that will certainly get you angry, but CAGW's examples are powerful and include:

  • $3.8 million for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy in Detroit;

  • $1.9 million for the Pleasure Beach water taxi service in Connecticut;

  • $1.8 million for swine odor and manure management research in Ames, Iowa;

  • $380,000 for a recreation and fairgrounds area in Kotzebue, Alaska;

  • $143,000 for the Greater New Haven Labor History Association in Connecticut;

  • $95,000 for the Canton Symphony Orchestra Association in Ohio; and$71,000 for Dance Theater Etcetera in Brooklyn for its Tolerance through Arts initiative.

A million here and a million there, and the next thing you know you are discussing real dollars.
The typical reaction to these type of bills is balance budget amendments and line item vetoes. These reforms are mere band aids that do not address the larger question of the areas that the government are allowed to spend. That would require a closer examination of the US Constitution and an adherence to Article I, Section 7 of that document. Doing such would not only cut into the billions of irresponsible pork, but attack the trillions in spending that threatens the future of our country. Now that would be change I would appreciate.

Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business, the longest running show on AM 650 (M-F at 11 am) in Houston, Texas and on AOL Radio. His articles often appear in Chicago Sun Times, Reuters, USA Today, and other national media. Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal calls Price the “best business talk show host in the country.” Find out why and visit his blog at www.BizPlusBlog.com and his show site at www.PriceofBusiness.com. You can also find Price on Strategy Room at FoxNews.com.

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