SEARCHING FOR THE TRILLION-DOLLAR EARMARK

Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies, Rants on October 15th, 2008 by Ed

Rather than resorting to my usual marathon of words, today I intend to use some numbers to prove that a major McCain talking point (and a staple of right-wing rhetoric) has something in common with Trig Palin.

"I can eliminate $100 billion of wasteful and earmark spending immediately–35 billion in big spending bills in the last two years, and another 65 billion that has already been made a permanent part of the budget." — Sen. McCain, All Things Considered, April 23, 2008

How does Gramps McCain's mysteriously-derived estimate of earmark spending compare to calculations by organizations that bother with "facts" and "numbers"?

John McCain: earmarks = $100 billion
Anti-tax hawks Citizens Against Government Waste: FY 2008 earmarks = $17.2 billion
Anti-tax hawks Taxpayers for Common Sense: FY 2008 earmarks = $18.3 billion

McCain magically (and without explanation, even when pressed, of where the $100 billion figure comes from) quintuples the amount of "wasteful spending" calculated by people who follow such matters for a living. More importantly, the premise of his argument is downright ridiculous when we look at earmarks in context. Yes, yes, I know. Republicans hate context. Context has a pronounced liberal bias. Consider the following.

FY 2008 earmark spending: ~$18,000,000,000 (#1 state: Alaska)**
Annual cost, tax-deductible home mortgage interest: $65,000,000,000
Bailout of sinking insurance giant AIG: $85,000,000,000
FY 2008 Iraq War spending: ~$155,000,000,000
FY 2008 cost of Bush tax cuts: $189,100,000,000
FY 2008 cost of Bush tax cuts with AMT "relief": $247,400,000,000
FY 2008 interest on the Federal debt: $261,000,000,000
FY 2008 Dept. of Defense budget (excluding Iraq): $481,000,000,000
FY 2008 Social Security: $608,000,000,000
Financial "rescue" plan: $700,000,000,000
FY 2008 Federal Budget: ~$3,000,000,000,000
National Debt as of 9/30/08: ~$10,000,000,000,000

FY 2008 Earmarks as a percentage of the Federal budget: 0.6%

That's right, folks! Vote for John McCain and in the fantasy world in which he can eliminate all Congressional earmarks (using the line-item veto….which was just declared unconsitutional by Scalia and Thomas ten years ago) you can maybe, kinda, potentially (but probably not) save six-tenths of a percent of the annual Federal outlay of your hard-earned dollars! Yes, truly those wasteful earmarks for things like cancer research and military aid to Israel (which McCain hates, right? Let's ask Joe Lieberman) are the cause of our economic difficulties.

Let's go one step further, critically examining the common right-wing bitching point about "unnecessary" Federal spending of the non-earmarked kind.

FY 2008 budget, Environmental Protection Agency: $7.2 billion
FY 2008 Deparment of Labor budget: $10.6 billion
FY 2008 Department of Interior budget: $10.6 billion
FY 2008 Treasury Department budget: $12.1 billion
Iraq War in FY 2008: $12.9 billion per month
FY 2008 Bush tax cuts to top 1% of income earners alone: $79.5 billion

For the mathematically challenged – and polling indicates that about 45% of you are – the annual budgets of your least favorite Cabinet agencies, if completely eliminated, would not fund the Iraq War for 30 days. To put it another way, the combined budget of Labor and Interior ($21.2 billion) is 4.4% of the Department of Defense budget or 3.5% of the cost of Social Security for one year. This year we spent four times as much giving tax cuts to the ultra-wealthy (top 1% = incomes greater than $275,000) as we did on the Departments of Labor and Interior combined.

The point, and one that will surely be lost on McCain, is not that earmarks or the Department of Labor are productive uses of our financial resources. The point is that eliminating them would not make the slightest goddamn difference when considered in the context of our Federal budget. It is a spit in the ocean. A grain of sand in the Sahara. A snowflake on a glacier. "Wasteful" or not, earmarks and the budgets of agencies most loathed by conservatives represent piss-ant sums compared to the items that perennially dominate the budget. Uncle Sam saving the money spent on earmarks would be about as meaningful as a millionaire with $100 million in debt finding a quarter in his couch. McCain's earmark crusade fits snugly into the narrative about those shiftless tax-and-spend libruls. But like so much of the conservative canon, it makes sense only as long as one remains stunningly ignorant of the facts.

**Is life hilarious or what? I could not make this shit up if I tried.