A local news item caught my attention yesterday, on San Francisco’s CBS5 television station. It concerned the city’s municipal transport system, or ‘Muni’.
While the transport organization rumbles on with a $21 million deficit, new ticket kiosks are being built at two locations. Looks like possibly a good idea at first glance. Sell more tickets, more passengers, more fares, more income to cut the deficit.
These are not the common or garden type kiosks though. The sort that look like either a burger trailer or Uncle Henry’s shed. They are state-of-the-art contraptions, constructed of stainless steel with bullet proof glass. The cost for the pair… $829,000!
Has the Muni gone loony? Well, perhaps not. You see, it’s not their money that they used to purchase these hi-tech boutique des billets. Neither is it funded from the city coffers… if there are any left, that is. It’s another wonderful investment, courtesy of the federal stimulus program. In other words, you bought them.
The terms of the grant insisted that Muni build new structures (with all the expensive bureaucratic procedures associated with anything ‘new’ in San Francisco), rather than perhaps ‘stimulating’ an existing empty office or retail unit, of which there are plenty.
This is just one of the ludicrous earmarks that are hitting every American in the pocket. The ‘use it or lose it’ excuse doesn’t vindicate the recipients of these giveaways, either.
While businesses and individuals are trying to make ends meet, don’t they feel any shame at using taxpayers’ money for projects that would still be highly questionable if it was their own money during an economic boom? Perhaps not.
It’s shocking to hear as gifted and prestigious an economist, such as Dr. Williams, ‘officially’ stamp the Obamination a totalitarian government. Even though I had our young Mr Obama pegged as a totalitarian well over two years ago. I haven’t been a bit shy in saying it since.
Dr. Walter Williams
Today, something spectacular happened in the people’s House. You, you my patriot friends and neighbors, stood together and turned aside the Marxists’ pork-laden seventeen hundred page omni-disaster bill with something like 6,600 earmarks.
It was an instantaneous reaction by the selfsame patriots we’ve been describing in the column all along. It’s you, you the American patriot, that jammed the Capitol switchboards with your calls, your e-mails and visits. It’s as though every word I’ve been saying about our oversight of Congress has enabled us to react, and react quickly.
What turned the liberal stampede aside wasn’t just all the calls and e-mails. What did the trick was that they were targeted. Republicans who had not been retired and who were up for re-election in this next cycle received a lot of attention, as did self-described (now) moderate Democrats. How an election does make for true believers. Well, enough of these folks, well aware that they were being stared down by millions of activist citizens who organized and acted virtually overnight.
I’m not suggesting that our Patriot Movement was entirely responsible for the omnibus spending monster’s demise, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we changed enough minds to affect the outcome.
Pretty much all of the country realizes that we are witnessing an entire government out of control, threatening our freedom from many directions at the same time. This is an outlaw government, totally unresponsive to the people… the citizens of this great land. This government is operating outside the Constitution and must be stopped.
We won a victory today. A small one in this war for America’s life. If the politicians know we’re looking right over their shoulders, prepared to act, a lot of these RINOs won’t be nearly as ready to get up to their usual sellouts and betrayals.
Nineteen hundred pages… one point one trillion dollars. The DeMarxists are obviously going for a Guinness record on spending. An incredible 6,600 earmarks. This isn’t pork. It’s sausage manufacture on a grand scale. This is economics, Democrat style. Everyone take a good long look. God willing, this is their last gasp.
There were a lot of conservatives unhappy with the tax compromise. I also would have preferred stand-alone bills and up-or-down votes on these issues. But one overriding factor decided in favor of it, for me.
There have been ample warnings by some economists, whose opinions I respect, that if we permitted the sunset of the Bush tax cuts to occur, the negative effect on the nation’s economy and jobs would propel the country into a double dip recession.
As it is, the very first tendrils of real recovery have just now made an appearance on the American economic scene. Stocks have been doing well up until now, propelled mainly by corporations grinding every erg of earning capacity out of their severely reduced staffs and downsized operations. There are signs of confidence in the retail field with strong pre-Christmas sales being reported.
Yes, there are signs of life in the economy, most likely bolstered by the Republican tidal wave in November. People are just more optimistic now that they can see that Barack Obama’s march to totalitarianism will be severely curtailed, if not destroyed altogether.
Business can now count on a stable tax rate for the next two years. It means that we have these battles to fight again in two years. Better to fight them with a Republican Congress and a newly elected Conservative Republican President.
This latest, and hopefully last, spending extravaganza by the Obama Congress is just more salt on an open sore, but we cannot lose sight of the goals we have set.
While it might be tempting to stand back a little and bask in the warmth of the real victory we experienced four weeks ago, it’s just another day as far as the enemies of America are concerned.
Has anybody paid any attention to the latest crop of RINOs to emerge? How many Republicans are going to peel off and vote against the prohibition of earmarks? The sooner we know the better.
Mark Levin said that we shouldn’t waste any time primarying these as they come up for election. I agree. Let’s purge the party of those who, given the slightest chance, break invariably to the left. They’ll only let us down in tight spots. Another thing that Mark said yesterday, which rings loud and true, is that this is no time to allow the DeMarxists to change the language surrounding our issues.
This is no time for timidity on the part of our leaders. We expected warriors, not milquetoast accommodationists. We, the people of the United States, put you there. We gave you the hammer… now use it.
John Boehner and Eric Cantor have just put themselves in my spotlight. They’re actually agreeing to talk to Obama about taxing the rich. What the…?! Sorry, guys, but that just won’t hack it. There will be no compromise on tax increases, or you may as well turn in your restroom keys now. You don’t make deals with a serpent, and Obama is a snake, pure and simple.
We told you from the beginning that the price of patriot support was aggressive conservatism based on our strong values. We didn’t send you there to split hairs or principles with the DeMarxists. We sent you there for one reason and one reason only… to defeat them. To defeat them utterly, and remove the taint of Marx, Lenin and Engels from the American body politic.
The other price which we exact is scrutiny. This may be a good object lesson for the incoming class. Don’t for a second think we’re not watching you. We are, and we will be.
[T]here are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:
• No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn't use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.
I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.
My understanding is Eric Cantor today said that he wanted to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing. That’s something I think we can -- we can work on together.
In light of the economy, I can understand why Boehner is focusing on earmarks as the most visible symbol of what needs to be fixed on Capitol Hill. And I agree that we need to fix the abuse of the earmark process by reforming it. But the fact is that not all earmarks can be construed as wasteful spending and not all wasteful spending are in earmarks. It's easy to come up with rhetoric denouncing "the evils of earmarks," but what we should be focusing on substantively is wasteful spending.
I don't want to get into debates over how Republicans should define public goods and wasteful spending. I do however want to talk about what principles should be espoused by Republicans when it comes to spending and how we can be innovative on sound spending policies.
What are some budgetary principles that should be communicated by Republicans to the American people?
The Solution Principle: Every challenge facing the American people does not require a federal office and federal funding.
The Priorities Principle: Every family and every business has to balance their checkbooks, their revenues with their expenses. Through good times and bad times, families and businesses have to sacrifice what they might want and prioritize their spending. The government should operate like any prudent family or business does, and prioritize.
The Investment Principle: The American people are "forced to invest" their income into government. Each taxpayer is, therefore, a shareholder in government. Because taxpayers have invested their money into government, taxpayers deserve the best return on their money. This means the "portfolio of investments" (otherwise known as government projects and agencies) must be reviewed carefully and objectively in order for the government to fulfill their due diligence.
How can we turn those principles into solutions? The answer is to do what's difficult, not easy (i.e. earmark moratoriums), and be innovative about our budget from both procedural and substantive points of view:
Don't allow earmarks to be placed during conference committees between the House and Senate.
Install a biennial budgeting process, something promoted by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), while also requiring supermajorities to increase in a fiscal year after a budget has been passed (for legitimate emergencies).
Separate capital budgets from operating budgets for each department. Long term projects are very different from short term day-to-day costs.
Instead of an executive Chief Performance Officer that gets to pick and choose what works and what doesn't under subjective criteria, have Congress create a Congressional Agency Performance Office that has some independence (like CBO) to constantly scrutinize the operations of all government agencies.
On capital projects that go to specific state and local governments, quasi-agencies, and companies, start a Congressional Office for Spending Oversight. Just like every business has control officers, this independent office should scrutinize long term projects' spending practices. This can allow Congress to reward under-budgeted projects and punish over-budgeted projects.
Not only should spending be posted online before it's passed. It should also be posted online when it's spent. Just like many state governments have done, the federal government's checkbook should be posted online.
I'm glad that we're getting out in front of the President and Democrats on this. We need to be in a proactive position, not a reactive position. Talking about earmkars is too easy. This is just another area where we need to develop political communication and public policy entrepreneurship on a serious issue.
Matt Moon keys off a tweet of mine suggesting a total earmark ban, at least until we get beyond the current disfigurement of the federal budget. He writes:
I agree with Patrick that earmarks are the most visible symbol. But that's exactly the problem. I don't agree that it's enough for Republicans to fix "symbols" of how we've lost our way. I don't agree that we need to focus on symbols. Yes, we need to fix the abuse of the earmark process by reforming it. But the fact is that not all earmarks can be construed as wasteful spending and not all wasteful spending are in earmarks.
I agree that earmarks are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wasteful spending. Of late, I've also taken a dim view of symbolism as a substitute for policy. But here's the thing.
If we are going to spend $819 billion on an economic stimulus, and a $410 billion omnibus on top of it, the least Congress could do to signal that they are giving up some part of the gravy train is to suspend earmarked spending for the duration of the budget crisis. This is a political winner for Republicans. Republicans didn't have the votes to stop the stimulus or the omnibus, but we could rally public opinion around the idea of cutting off the part of the budget process perceived as the most politically self-serving and corrupt. It's not hundreds of billions of dollars, but it still makes a statement against the idea that the electorate can be bought with government dollars. In a minority situation such as the one we are in, it helps to pick fights we can win in the court of public opinion.
The political case for earmarks rests on the myth that constituents, Republicans and Democrats, want earmarks. In individual cases, this is true. But in the aggregate, polling has shown that the public takes a dim view of the process. And incumbents who do not take earmarks are re-elected at the same rate as incumbents who do.
The trouble with earmarks, beyond just their symbolic importance, is that earmarked spending is inherently recreational in nature. They are mostly for one-off projects that were never funded before, and are often a substitute for private investment -- making each earmark a mini-bailout.
Regardless of price tag, Republicans should not be in the business of defending new and optional spending. It's just not in our DNA as Republicans. One can be a fiscal conservative and support spending on basic public services like police, schools, and roads that are funded year in and year out. If earmarked projects are truly necessary, they should be funded through the ordinary budget process, not through haphazard one-off earmarks.
Gov. Blagojevich was caught offering to trade a decision for a reward, personal or political. This is widely understood to be disgraceful and illegal.
But is it really so unusual? How does what Gov. Blagojevich did differ from the (bipartisan) extortion that is considered routine in Congress? Blagojevich sought $1 million; Congressional bribes cost billions.
House Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers' pet projects large and small to secure enough votes this week to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year. ... To get them off the fence and on the bill, Democrats have a key weapon at their disposal: cold, hard cash. The bill contains billions...
Perhaps one might argue that Blagojevich sought personal benefit when he demanded campaign contributions in exchange for his vote. Perhaps. But earmarks are little more than incumbent slush funds - a de facto campaign contribution, paid for by US taxpayers. The effect is the same. (we are leaving aside, for the moment, the also-vexing issue of vote-trading)
The legislative bribery works two ways.
Pork buys votes for the basic legislation (as described above), or...
Legislation is leverage to get votes for otherwise unacceptable pork. After all, you can't vote against funding a spinach farm without voting against funding the troops; and you can't vote to fund the troops without voting for a few billion dollars worth of pork. Whatever the legislative rationale for these omnibus bills, they amount to extortion.
Yes, Gov. Blagojevich is a disgrace. But Gov. Blagojevich merely did what our US Congress does as a matter of routine.
Well one thing the ressurection of the Bailout Bill should show is that when Sarah Palin says she killed the Bridge to Nowhere and Charles Gibson smugly responded "After Congress voted it down." that he was talking through his hat.
What Palin should have said back to Charlie was "You know Charlie in politics there are very few last innings, the fat lady very rarely sings. Just because Congress removes an earmark one day doesn't mean that a day, a week, a month or a year later that the earmark would not be returned to the budget. There was nothing stopping me from instructing our lobbyist to continue working on getting that bridge into the budget."
The Bailout Bill was voted down and yet here it is again. So Congress voting something down means nothing.
Rich Lowry and others are calling tax cuts in the Senate bailout package "earmarks" today.
Calling tax cuts "earmarks" is very unhelpful and completely wrong from a fiscal conservative perspective. There is no such thing as a “tax earmark.” Earmarks are spending. There are appropriations earmarks. There are authorization earmarks. There are no “tax earmarks.” To claim that there are puts tax deductions and credits (which is what we’re talking about here) on the same par as bridges to nowhere. Was the creation of HSAs a “tax earmark?” How about the home mortgage interest deduction? One might call for lowering the rates and broadening the base, but we should not fall into the trap of equating tax cuts and spending increases. That’s how some Senate Republicans got in such massive trouble over health care last year and energy this year vis-à-vis taxes.
A tax cut is not the same thing as a spending increase.
Here’s a thought experiment for the dubious: suppose we eliminated the mortgage interest deduction and had HUD give every homeowner a $10,000 subsidy to pay his mortgage. It’s all good, right? Heck, we’re just replacing a “tax earmark” with a “spending earmark.” Except that this “swap” would increase taxes and increase spending by hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
We’re still looking for Porkbusters across the country to produce video reports. Search the 2008 “Pig Book” of Citizens Against Government Waste for ideas from your area, and send your e-mail pitches to me: dglover-at-eyeblast-dot-tv.
If you want to join our army of citizen reporters but don’t have a camera, you can get one free in exchange for your work. Just request a Flip video camera when you e-mail your story ideas.