The city of Chicago and the state of Illinois could do worse than to follow the lead of Washington, DC Republicans in the matter of earmarks. It could for example, tell Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to take a hike regarding is request for $300 million of taxpayer money for the renovation of Wrigley Field.
Although the dispute was entirely internal to the Republicans in Congress, the Tea Party has its first victory. The Hill reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reversed himself and will support GOP efforts to ban earmarks in Congressional legislation.
McConnell had previously defended earmarks, saying that banning them would simply cede spending decisions to the Administration. Although technically accurate, this is a *very* disingenuous position, as McConnell well knows.
To the public in general, an “earmark” is the process of allocating money for a pet project – a park in someone’s district or state, a bridge to nowhere, etc. In reality, at the time of the earmark’s appearance in legislation, the money has already been allocated and the earmark simply says “Here’s what to do with that money.” This is McConnell’s back door to claiming that *someone* has to spend the money, and it might as well be Congress.
What *really* happens is that the money has been allocated with the earmark in mind. Let’s take a hypothetical example:
Suppose that in creating and passing a budget the Congress addresses the needs of the Department of Shoe Shining. It is determined that in the coming year that Department will require $2.5 billion to meet its needs. Congress passes a budget with an allocation of $3 billion dollars for the department, and look! – there’s an extra half billion dollars in the Department of Shoe Shining budget. What a surprise! OK, we’ll spend that on a bridge to nowhere and various other pet projects.
So yes, McConnell is technically correct when he says it’s just a matter of who decides where the money is to be spent. But the *real* problem is that an extra half billion dollars was allocated in the first place. To prevent those earmarks, Congress needs to pass a budget which contains only $2.5 billion for the Department of Shoe Shining, leaving no money available for earmarks.
You might be surprised to learn that earmarks are actually a very small portion of the national budget (about $9 billion in Dubya’s final budget). Earmarks are the low hanging fruit in budget balancing, and the importance of the proposed ban is more symbolic than anything, but this symbolism is *critical* to the process of reducing overall spending.
We all know that even balancing the budget will do nothing to reduce the horrific national debt that exists. Some programs – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid – are going to have to be reduced in scope, and other programs are going to have to be eliminated if we are to pay down our debt. Such actions are going to require a lot of public support and understanding.
But why should a middle class parent support ending day care funding, or a senior citizen support reductions in support programs, or home owners support the end of the mortgage interest tax deduction – in short, why should anyone bite the bullet and support the hard choices if the Congress can’t even deal with the easy choices?