Friday, March 19, 2010

Tackling the deficit (III)...

OK, we've talked about waste and foreign aid, which didn't demonstrate large real savings of the magnitude we need to dent a trillion-dollar shortfall - although the effort might get us 5% or so of the way there.  Now let's stop all those vile earmarks.

First problem is the actual cost.  While significant, it is not overwhelming.
The amount of money directed by lawmakers in 2010 to specific projects back in their districts adds up to $15.9 billion, according to the analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense. [More]
The larger problem is the politics of earmarks.
But even with both parties taking actions against earmarks, there are a few reasons why pork barrel spending will continue in many forms.
1. Every member of the House and senator could agree to never put an earmark in another bill, but billions of dollars' worth of projects for special interests could continue. That's because there are many provisions in large spending bills that resemble earmarks, but Congress does not define them as such. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog group in Washington, estimates that there were about 91 provisions worth about $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2010 alone that TCS considers earmarks but Congress does not. For example, in the fiscal year 2010 defense spending bill, there was $2.5 billion to build 10 C-17 Globemaster Strategic Airlift Aircraft, despite the fact that the Defense Department said the 205 C-17's it already has are sufficient. This spending is not considered an earmark by Congress, and thus would not be affected by either the Democratic or Republican earmark reform. "They've decided that it's not an earmark, even though it walks like an earmark and talks like an earmark," says Steve Ellis, vice president of TCS.
2. As the majority in Congress, Democrats have the most influence over earmarks at the moment. They have decided not to allow earmarks "directed to for-profit entities." But evidence suggests that this move affects only a small minority of earmarks. It can be difficult to find out which percentage of earmarks are for private interests and which fund nonprofit groups or state and local governments. Finding out which is which is time-consuming. It requires combing through the sometimes thousands of earmarks in a given bill because "Congress doesn't tell you right off the bat who the beneficiary [of an earmark] is," says Ellis. According to Representative Obey's announcement, the new earmark reform would have affected about 1,000 earmarks for 2010 had it been enacted last year. But according to TCS, there were about 9,000 earmarks in fiscal year 2010. Citizens Against Government Waste, another watchdog group, counts 10,160 earmarks, of which the Democratic reform affects only 10 percent. [More]
So setting aside the likelihood of earmark reform, their contribution to the deficit is still small.

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