View Full Version : Squabbling about earmarks hides the big budget picture

09-10-2008, 10:11 AM
Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have been throwing punches lately over earmarks (http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/hjackson/Earmarks_16.pdf), those congressional set-asides otherwise known as "spending with a Zip code."

On one hand, good for the candidates. The more that members of Congress can divert money to their pet projects, the greater the likelihood of corruption and the certainty of waste. No matter who wins the White House, earmarks are likely to skrink.

On the other hand, the disingenuousness (http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/02/our-view-on-the.html?loc=interstitialskip) in this debate is breathtaking. Both candidates suggest that eliminating earmarks would have a significant impact on the federal budget deficit, which is simply false. And all but one of the presidential and vice presidential candidates have sought earmarks.
The notable exception is McCain, who has long been a crusader against earmarks (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/25/AR2006012501285.html), angering Republican colleagues along the way. But it's a wonder his running mate, Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, continues to raise the earmark issue. When she was mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist (http://www.usnews.com/articles/opinion/2008/09/04/data-points-sarah-palins-lobbyist.html) who helped her get $27 million in federal money for the tiny town. Her claim to have opposed the state's notorious "Bridge to Nowhere" has been shown to be barely half true (http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/gop_convention_spin_part_ii.html): She supported it when she ran for governor, then turned on it after Congress withdrew the project. The state kept the money.

As for the Democrats, Obama (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080908/ap_on_el_pr/mccain_palin) avoided earmarks this year, but last year he requested $311 million worth for his home state of Illinois, or about $25 for every state resident. Sen. Joe Biden (http://www.cagw.org/site/DocServer/Senate_-_alpha.pdf?docID=3023) of Delaware, Obama's running mate, sought 70 earmarks worth almost $120 million this year, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. (http://www.cagw.org/site/PageServer)