Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bruce Bartlett: "Earmarks Are Not a Significant Cause of Rising Federal Spending"

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 4:49 PM

In this week's Skinny, I talked about the developing effort to ban earmarks and how it ties into the race in Congressional District 8, where four Republicans are vying to unseat Democrat Gabrielle Giffords.

Bruce Bartlett, the former Reagan administration official who now writes a column for Forbes magazine and books such as Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, weighed in on the topic on his blog:

It's obviously true that earmarks are not a significant cause of rising federal spending; eliminating all of them will save at most one percent of the budget. I've always suspected that this is the main reason why right wingers focus on them so obsessively—it makes them look tough on spending while actually doing nothing meaningful to cut it.

That said, I think earmarks are underrated in terms of their contribution to corruption. It's really poisonous when members of Congress can so easily direct federal spending to a favored business in order to attract campaign contributions or just the mistaken belief that they are doing something for their district by helping out a local company.

Furthermore, I think the idea that if Congress stops earmarking that they will somehow disappear is ludicrous. It will just increase congressional pressure on the administration to include favored projects in the president's budget, which for some reason is always treated as being earmark-free.

In fact, the administration's budget is filled with its own earmarks. We know this because

when presidents run for re-election they are constantly telling people that they will get the new bridge or highway they have been hoping for if they just put him back in the White House. We also know that administrations commonly use pork to buy votes in Congress.

While it's true that the administration is somewhat more likely to evaluate projects on a cost-benefit basis, it's naive to think that it is entirely immune to the same political pressures as Congress.

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