SEARCHING FOR THE TRILLION-DOLLAR EARMARK

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.

23 thoughts on “SEARCHING FOR THE TRILLION-DOLLAR EARMARK”

  • Maybe you don't care that the government is squandering $17-18 billion dollars of our tax money each year, but think of the great things that this money could be applied to….individual's health care costs (could be a portion of universal healthcare), education, more funding for the EPA, etc. You state that it is only .6% of the federal budget; this makes it seem very non-threatening; however, I think it is important to consider how earmarks are increasingly becoming of passing legislation. We witnessed this with the 2008 economic stabilization bill in the Senate…Senators/Representatives add on millions in earmarks for particular projects to get others on board to pass the legislation. This can become problematic when it is becomes the norm of the institution and can be easily taken advantage of.

    Another retort is often that earmarks/pork-barrel spending can oftentimes be for perfectly great programs, such as a senior center in Paducah, KY. This of course begs the question of whether such a center–no matter how "good" or "necessary" it might be–should be funded by *federal* dollars. If communities would like community centers or light projectors or other things, then they should do fundraising, use local tax money, or ask their state for the money perhaps.

    US Senators and Representatives need to realize that our federal tax money is not *theirs* to do with it what they wish. They should not be spending our money like a drunken sailor would; they should exercise restraint and do what is in the best interest of the *Country* not just their own constituencies so that they can get re-elected.

    Before anyone asks…no I am not a Republican but I am an American Taxpaying Citizen (on the higher end of the scale).

  • Hmm. Earmarks = squandering?

    Well, you blew it in the first sentence. Unfortunate, given the quantity of words that followed it.

  • Beautiful!
    And you are dead-on when you say "context has a pronounced liberal bias." Whenever a right-winger bleats out a talking point, and I try to respond, there's always an immediate "Oh, you're just trying to spin things… blah, blah, blah."
    Sometimes I just think this country deserves what it gets.

  • Actually, I address that in the body of the post. Your immediate dismissal based on that does not bode well for your students of course. Reading comprehension….

  • Nor does the fact that you believe that you successfully "addressed" anything.

    You spend the first paragraph characterizing earmarks as squandered money – just think of all the useful things we could do with it….as opposed to what we do with it now, which is pile it into a furnace and ignite it.

    Then, lacking confidence in that argument (with good reason) you try an entirely different one, i.e. the tactic of throwing multiple arguments at the wall and seeing what sticks. In this second paragraph you suggest that fundraising (nursing home bake sale? fire department topless car wash?) and local taxes (which, of course, are already insufficient to cover their existing obligations) should replace federal funding. You close by regurgitating a McCain campaign talking point about "light projectors", as if there is an epidemic of million-dollar projector-buying sweeping the nation and causing our current predicament. I suggest reading this: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/pressroom/pr/2008_10_08_AdlerStatement_aboutdebate.pdf

    Lastly, you get up on the soapbox and share your opinion of what Congress should be doing with tax dollars. You are entitled to that opinion but it holds no particular persuasive power.

    You close by bragging about your income.

    D-

  • Facts don't matter to these people. They don't care – all they want is to 'win' and press their agenda. That's the shame of it all – they WOULD cut off their nose to spite their face!

  • Not a very convincing post. I tend to agree with jon re:government spending.

    This board primarily has students posting; you all do not pay high taxes so that probably informs your opinions. Just wait until you have careers and have to pay more, then you will think again about these "programs".

  • And the ad hominem circumstantial rears its hoary head. Of course we, the impoverished masses, yearning to be educated, couldn't possibly have an principled, reasoned stance on taxes and government spending; we're just naive, poor students, after all, not possessed of the requisite riches to reason properly. Money can't buy love, but apparently it can buy principles.

  • Um, most of the people who comment regularly are between 25-50. All of them, to my knowledge, have jobs. I know you can't conceive of anyone being "old" and not seeing the wisdom of Reaganism, but believe it or not some of us find it unpersuasive.

    I made a sizeable salary for several years before grad school and it didn't change the way I felt about these issues. I had much, much better things to do with my time than piss and moan about taxes. You do not, and I can respect that.

    The "you will all become Republicans when you get older" argument is as illogical as it is demonstrably false. And for the record, no one in America pays "high" taxes. Float back to RonPaul.com and pretend that your bitterness is justified. Alternatively, get a life and try to enjoy it rather than worrying about the 30% of your income that the government steals from you.

  • If you all think this post was a defense of earmarks, or the earmarking system, your reading skills are in trouble.

    If you were a serious anti-tax hawk, earmarks should be around 20th in line of your priorities.

    What's with people bragging about their incomes in here? Taxes to Earmarks are such a petite bourgeois issue – all the rich people I know bitch about mark-to-market accountancy regulation.

  • Well Ed, I think this is really the clearest indication that you've made it. When your blog posts draw commenters to go off on barely-relevant rants while completely ignoring the content of your post, all while criticizing you for not posting about the topic that they care about, then you're a real blogger.

  • Also, does McCain think baby Trig has autism?

    McCain: "And, by the way, [Palin] also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we've got to find out what's causing it, and we've got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children."

  • Terry: Might I suggest cracking open a good book, picking up a hobby, or jerking off or getting laid? Ah, fuck it. You are probably just going to end up doing a swan dive off of a tall building after the economy collapses since money is all you care about.

  • Facts are extremely important, especially if you can get them right. However, the more important point which Ed made is that quibbling over relatively minor matters, no matter how important each may seem in itself, should not distract our nation from the most important issues at hand. Ed conveniently provided some dollar-quantities for comparison in his argument, yet we have other issues which may not be quantifiable but are examples of issues we need to keep uppermost in our minds. For example, McCain may be either a war-criminal for dropping bombs on civilians in densely populated areas in Viet Nam, or he may be a war-hero for surviving incarceration in a POW prison in the same country. This is interesting, and important, but I question whether it is worth much discussion when the far more pressing issue is whether, or not, the USA should cease killing thousands of people in the Middle East ASAP, cease imprisoning and torturing thousands more, and cease exposing US soldiers and mercenaries to harm. Something which is potentially quantifiable, but hidden from public scrutiny, is the amount of money the USA spends building military bases all over the world (such as the 4 or 5 enormous ones under construction in Iraq). (See "Nemesis" by Chalmers Johnson)

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