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Earmark elimination won’t save budget

Posted By Tony Petersen On Nov 17, 2010 @ 12:03 am In Opinion | 1 Comment

Congress’ much-maligned spending on earmarks, derided by activists as “pork-barrel spending,” will be the first casualty of the Tea Party Congress when the next Congress is inaugurated in January.

The rabid conservative base of the Republican Party has long called for the end of earmarks, a practice of directing funds on a particular bill toward specific projects in congressmen and women’s districts and states, and now they have it—many House and Senate Republicans have agreed to a moratorium on earmarks.

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the most “pro-pork” members of Congress, has agreed to the moratorium. President Barack Obama, of all people, supports the ban.

Critics of earmarks label them wasteful, citing the oft-cited “Bridge to Nowhere,” and calling them representative of Washington D.C.’s addiction to spending taxpayer’s hard-earned dough.

Senator Jim Demint, a Tea Party favorite, said, “If we can’t decide as a federal government that it’s not our job to pave local parking lots and build local museums, then we don’t understand what constitutional limited government is.”

Senator Tom Coburn claimed that eliminating earmarks “is an important step toward getting spending under control.”

With respect to conservatives and Tea Partiers in general, with whom I have much sympathy and agreement, they are just plain wrong on this issue.

Eliminating earmarks is a purely symbolic gesture, and does little to actually cut into the budget deficit. According to Coburn, Congress spent $16.1 billion during the 2010 fiscal year, which is about 1 percent of the United States’ $1.4 trillion budget deficit. Cutting 1 percent of the deficit is not what I would call “getting spending under control.”

Talk of limiting earmarks is a distraction from more pressing matters, like the looming entitlements crisis. According to The Heritage Foundation, spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will consume all government revenues by 2052. The budget will never be balanced without entitlement reform.

Also, earmarks actually help people. McConnell, in his statement announcing his support for the moratorium, admitted as much, saying, “Make no mistake, I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state.” That some earmarks are wasteful is not an indictment of the entire practice—some are very helpful to their communities.

Earmarks also contribute to the constitutional concept of separation of powers. When congressmen and women earmark funds to a bill, it gives Congress a say in appropriating the money, which is what they are constitutionally required to do anyhow. Without earmarks, the executive branch could appropriate money where it wants at a whim—without the accountability that Congress has.

Only Republicans are taking part in the ban, meaning Democratic members of Congress can still use all the pork they want. Thus, no money will be saved, and Democrats will receive all of the benefits. This does not sound like a smart political strategy.

Balancing the budget should be the aim of the incoming Congress, not passing symbolic measures that accomplish nothing of consequence.

Tea Party candidates were accused during the election season of not knowing how to govern. Their first move has not repudiated that charge.

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