March 5, 2009


Yesterday, Jake Tapper tweeted this:

WH sez nation/govt need tighten belts BUT POTUS signing the omnibus spending bill (with earmarks) disconnect? 

I replied:

Disconnect? No. You're repeating the same behavior--identifying a tiny issue that may or may not be a gotcha and inflating it.

He answered:

9 billion tiny? tell Dem Sens Bayh and Feingold, who say POTUS should veto bill. r they "playing gotcha and inflating it"?

I replied: 

Yeah. 9B is tiny. And I've yet to hear of a bridge to nowhere. Good science stuff mostly.The F22. Now THAT'S an earmark.

This demonstrates the limitations imposed by 140 characters.

There are too many things to expand on here to do well, but I will take a crack at them.

First, on the simple substance of this, the 9 billion dollars of "earmarks" are indeed trivial within the scope of federal spending that should include, if necessary, paying people to dig holes and then paying other people to fill them up again. In this climate, even a bridge to nowhere is worth considering.  If there is only 9 billion dollars of money "wasted" on projects that don't make sense, that's small potatoes compared to the size of the problem and the size of the solution.

But, as far as I can tell, the "earmarks" that have been identified so far all seem to be pretty good expenditures of government money. Volcano monitoring is a public good, like sea walls and levees.  Honeybees are a critical part of our agricultural ecosystem. Helping former gang members reenter civil society is clearly a good thing.  I haven't, as I tweeted, read about any of these earmarks that would line up with the bridge to nowhere, a clear waste of public funds.

In context, making a fuss over this makes even less sense. The Federal budget under the Bush administration and Republican legislatures wasted hundreds of billions of dollars, literally shrink-wrapping billions of dollars onto shipping pallets and dropping them off in Iraq.  An enormous number of federal jobs have been outsourced to private sector contractors at much higher costs than civil service staff, and to the detriment of institutional memory.  Insurance companies are being paid to administer Medicare that can be done with current Federal staff with minimal additional marginal cost.  We pitch hundreds of billions of dollars a year on cost overruns on military procurement of equipment that has no discernable mission and often doesn't even work properly.  (See America's Defense Meltdown, no longer available as a pdf.) 9 billion dollars spent on small local projects that, as far as I can tell actually are of public benefit, is not in same city, never mind the same ballpark as the torrent of money that has come out of the Treasury for Republican cronies.

Blaming Obama for this makes even less sense. He's not inserting the earmarks. Congress is, with six of the top ten inserters being Republicans. So it doesn't even make sense to blame Democrats.

What is most irksome about this is that it is not merely stenography of, at best, misleading and stunningly hypocritical Republican talking points. It's giving those talking points a megaphone, while focusing on trivial Russert-like gotchas that will make no appreciable difference in how and when the US gets out of the chasm that the Republican party has thrown the country in.  It's frittering around the edges, trying to gin up a scandal where none exists.


Unknown said...

I thought there were $7.8 billion in 9k earmarks, no? It's fun to be commenting in YOUR blog.... ;-)

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...

That number is necessarily fluid because "earmark" is not well defined. But thanks for stopping by. And feel free to rant.

Paul Dirks said...

My earlier comment got eated but it referenced the fact that Pig Manure odor abatement was among the spending provisions that the R's found so amusing.

I, on the other hand find it to be a perfect example of where market forces utterly fail to operate benignly and government intervention is not only appropriate but vital.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...

Yeah, Dirks there are a lot of things Republicans apparently find funny that address actual market failure, like volcano monitoring.

JNS I got that 9b from Tapper's tweet, by the way.