Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Earmarks, Schmearmarks…..

Nothing gets the citizenry more distracted than the issue of congressional “earmarks’.

Just mention the “Bridge to Nowhere” or the Lawrence Welk Museum and people go nuts. As they should; they are colossal wastes of taxpayer money.

But mention to the same person that we will have a “$1.7 trillion budget deficit” and watch their eyes glaze over like that second eyelid dogs have to protect their eyes. They just get cloudy-looking and say, “Yeah, ain’t it terrible!”

People can relate to the waste of $650,000 to study beaver dam construction (real-story) and even a $398 million bridge in Alaska. But $1.7 trillion deficits, $3.5 trillion budgets and an $11 trillion national debt seem to be so enormous that our minds just can’t take it all in.

So politicians take advantage of that weakness and use it to keep on doing what they have been doing for 50 years…spending more money than you can possibly imagine recklessly.

In Estonia, they don’t even have a word for “trillion”, or at least not when I went there in 1995 to talk to them about how we run the federal budget. (Don’t laugh…it was not a comedy show) The translator had to call a trillion a “black million”; it was so large of a number that it was “inconceivable to the average Estonian.”

We Americans must think of our federal budget as a “black trillion” then.

As to congressional earmarks, this most recent bill had close to 9000 of them in there, roughly 59% from Democrat Senators and 40% from Republican Senators, the exact proportion of the current makeup of the US Senate. I guess that means the Independent Socialist Senator from Vermont, Bernard Sanders got the last 1% of the earmarks.

The total cost of the 9000 earmarks? $7 billion. Horrible. Shameful, Despicable.

That was 2% of the overall $409 billion spending bill.

Here is what the most depressing part of the whole thing is. President Obama ran on a platform of “eliminating earmarks from our congressional budget and spending process forever!” I believed him as well as millions of other people who believed him and then voted for him with the hopes he would be a truly “transformational” President.

All it would have taken would have been one stroke of the presidential veto pen.

To be “transformational”, a leader has to do something that is unexpected. In this case, he could have vetoed the entire bill time and time again and waited for 2/3rds of the Senate and Congress to override his veto. His veto would have been upheld every single time.

He would have been like President Reagan who early in his first term, fired the PATCO air controllers who threatened to go on strike during a bruising recession and put our nation’s flights in jeopardy.

But President Obama chose not to “rock the boat” because congressional and senate leaders told him it was probably “too difficult” to rip all of these earmarks out of the bill.

Earmarks are made to be “ripped out” or “put in” bills pretty easily. In 2003, the day when Senator Elizabeth Dole was sworn into office, we were called by the Senate Appropriations Committee staff who said: “We are re-programming $10 billion in projects in a pending omnibus appropriations bill because the Republicans won a majority in the 2002 elections. Tell us how you want to split up $1 million into 2-3 projects and get back to us by 4:00 pm today.”

Which we did and the people in those 3 North Carolina communities were grateful for the assistance. It went to help the North Carolina community colleges in selected areas around the state. It was either that or the $1 million was going back to Pennsylvania or some other state, not to deficit-reduction or to pay off the national debt.

So to some people, that was a “good” earmark. To others, it was “pork”.

But if you are going to campaign against them and don’t veto the first bill that has 9000 of them in it, then you are asking for trouble on the next spending bill, and the next and the next.

And distracting everyone from dealing with the really huge problems we face in entitlements and interest costs.

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