Mr. Boehner, Please Move Beyond Earmarks

This from the House Speaker-designate for the 112th Congress in today's Wall Street Journal:

[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.

And this from the President during his post-election news conference on Wednesday:

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:

  • Follow the lead of Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap for America's Future" when it comes to restructuring our entitlements.
  • 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.

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 We need to be in a proactive

 We need to be in a proactive position


Certainly seems different that the tax cuts and laissez-faire syndrome. Oops, we are doing more tax cuts and more printing of money to "create jobs" while we keep sending jobs overseas. 


We'll be watching. 

Earmarks are gone; what will replace them?

I think you can be pretty sure you'll see a commitment to no 'earmarks' labeled as such.  Instead, I think you can be pretty sure you'll see a huge number of "targeted entrepreneurial partnerships" or some euphemism along those lines.  Mr. Moon, as a free marketeer, will you be here to cheer on "targeted entrepreneurial partnerships"?  Please make a note, everyone: if Mr. Moon later cheers some euphemistically pleasing replacement term for 'earmarks', you can heat up the frying pan because the pork is ready to be served. 

There is a reason that corporate and other special interest "persons" spent hundreds of millions on this election.  It wasn't because they're concerned about 'socialism' or think President Obama is a Kenyan Mooslim, or even that they're just looking for special tax cuts or to gut regulation of their industry.  In the short term, of course, they're all looking to hold their spot at the trough for a plethora of goodies, including what we now call earmarks but soon to be given a facelift with a prettied-up new term that puts the free market happy face on business as usual (for the right donors). More important than even that, though, is assuring  their candidates are committed to ensuring no legislation passes that would require disclosure of their identifies.  The long game depends on their ability to continue to hide in the shadows, faceless, until that too is so entrenched that decades are spent yammering about it (like earmarks) but nothing can be done about it.

Massive corporate and special interest spending on elections is done for one reason and one reason only: improving the interest's bottom line.  In Citizens United, the Supreme Court said that a corporation is a person for purposes of campaign financing.  So think about what motivates you as a person to contribute to a candidate's campaign.  You donate to the candidate that you believe will pursue policies consistent with what you consider to be in your best interest.  Corporate and special interest 'persons' are no different.  Whether that 'best interest' comes through targeted tax cuts for their industry or members, gutting regulations and enforcement, no bid contracts, or what we now call 'earmarks' really makes no difference to the special interest 'person' because they all improve the bottom line.  If anyone here thinks that defense contractors are going to go quietly into the night as the earmarks supporting them disappear, I have beachfront property in Phoenix that I'm willing to sell you at a steal...

Even on earmarks, serious

Even on earmarks, serious Republican action seems very unlikely--they're the top porksters in congress. The last time they raised this unrelenting furor against earmarks was in 1994, at a time when the congress, under Democratic control, passed $8 billion in earmarks.

When Republicans seized control, they went absolutely insane, but their mania wasn't directed toward cleansing appropriations of pork--it was directed toward larding up every bill that came before them with as much pork as they could hang on it. They set a record, then blew it away year after year. Their all-time high came in 2006, when they passed a staggering $29,5 billion in pork, and the only reason it was their biggest year is because it was the last year they had control of congress.

When Democrats first resumed control in 2007, they more-than-halved pork spending, chopping it down to $13.2 billion. From there, it went up again, to $19.6 billion, and has dropped again to $16.5 billion in the most recent fiscal year. Citizens Against Government Waste has awarded Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) the title of top congressional porkster for years, blowing away even the Senate's most notorious earmarker, the now-late Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Pork is only unpopular in the abstract. Everyone always says they hate earmarks. At the same time, everyone loves (and reelects) legislators who bring home the bacon. That's why, among other things, over half of the Republican caucus returned to home to take credit for all the money the Obama stimulus package was pouring into their states and districts, after all but three of them voted against it. A Washington Post poll released last month is emblematic of the problem. It asked,

"Do you want your representative in Congress to fight for more government spending in your congressional district, in order to create jobs; or do you want your representative to fight to cut government spending, even if it means fewer jobs in your district?"

57% chose "fight for more spending."

Earmarks are only1% of total Congressional spending

But hey, ya gotta start somewhere, and at some point the "people's Representatives" have to start representing the people, and quit Pork spending and calling it a Stimulus.

The People have spoken.   Can you hear us now ?

Now you're getting it, 4speed!

Even 4speed manages to highlight the absurdity of decades of shouting about earmarks. 1% of spending?  I agree, we need to start somewhere, but we can't even get them to commit to starting at 1%.  John McCain has made a career out of howling about earmarks and now he's older than Methusala.

But why do they get away with it?  Because we, every one of us, is just as addicted to government spending, as long as it's on us.  As classicliberal pointed out, it's because WE, as much as the politicians, love us some spending on local pork.  That's where the wheels will come off the Tea Party 'Express' -- where the rubber meets the road and we are expected to sacrifice personally.  Most politicians are not irrational actors and they don't operate in a vacuum.  They love them some pork because we love us some pork.  This is why no GOP candidate or rep would publicly embrace Paul Ryan's Roadmap: because they know that despite all the TeaPeople rhetoric, each and every one of them is unwilling to give up the Medicare scooter crack. 

And as 4speed notes, it's a major uphill battle to even get us (through our representatives) off the 1% crack.  How much hope do we have of getting off the serious stuff?  I think the answer is "none", until we have no alternative.  The party will continue until the crack pipe is empty. 



Sure enough

You can look here at 28:41, and there's a very good chart that illustrates the impact of various actions.

From Bruce Bartlett here:

Conservatives delude themselves that the Bush tax cuts worked and that the best medicine for America’s economic woes is more tax cuts; at a minimum, any tax increase would be economic poison. They forget that Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn’t end until November of that year. Indeed, one could easily argue that the enactment of that legislation was a critical prerequisite to recovery because it led to a decline in interest rates. The same could be said of Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, which many conservatives predicted would cause a recession but led to one of the biggest economic booms in history.

According to the CBO, federal taxes will amount to just 15.5 percent of GDP this year. That’s 2.2 percent of GDP less than last year, 3.3 percent less than in 2007, and 1.8 percent less than the lowest percentage recorded during the Reagan years. If conservatives really believe their own rhetoric, they should be congratulating Obama for being one of the greatest tax cutters in history.

From David Stockman here:

The Bush tax cuts are “unaffordable,’’ he says. Extending them would be a “travesty.”...

David Stockman:  The two parties are in a race to the fiscal bottom to see which one can bury our children and grandchildren deeper in debt. The Republicans were utterly untruthful when they recently pledged no tax increases for anyone, anytime, ever. The Democrats are just as bad — running their usual campaign of political terror on social security and other entitlements while loudly exempting all except the top 2 percent of taxpayers from paying more for the massively underfunded government they insist we need.

The fact is, the Bush tax cuts were unaffordable when enacted a decade ago. Now, two unfinanced wars later, and after a massive Wall Street bailout and trillion-dollar stimulus spending spree, it is nothing less than a fiscal travesty to continue adding $300 billion per year to the national debt. This is especially true since these tax cuts go to the top 50 percent of households, which can get by, if need be, with the surfeit of consumption goods they accumulated during the bubble years. So Congress should allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for everyone. By doing nothing, the government would be committing its first act of fiscal truth-telling in decades.

But of course, fiscal irresponsibility appears for all the world to be a primary objective for the Republican leadership.



That's funny, the Republican tax cuts were unaffordable

Tax cuts from Bush will continue ..........Government Spending will shrink, thus creating the affordability.   But now, lets call 'em what they are, Tax increases if the Bush Cuts do not continue.   The Obama agenda is being De-funded, we can't afford it, ya know ?

The K-rug-man Keyesian Economic affair is over, K-rug got screwed, and he wants to get even and screw America.  Keep talking, nobody's listening to you.

Smaller Government is headed your way, embrace it.  Obama's agenda is dead.   Obama's agenda is dead.  Obama's agenda is dead.   Can you hear me now ?

A loaf a bread (link) is what is going to be Unaffordable, because of Obama's "agenda"

loaf of bread unaffordable due to rampant printing of money.

also nuclear winter, via republican-proposed defaulting on debt.

Wrong place

That last comment went to the wrong place.

I just want to say that I support their efforts in deficit reduction, but I don't see attacking earmarks as doing it.  I see that as part of the block grant process.  And so, I disagree with Matt Moon on the issue of an oversight committee.  Earmarks are oversight.  That's exactly why they exist is to direct a portion of the funds to specific projects.  And that's all the oversight that's needed, if used properly.  Let the states manage the money, and if the feds have anything in specific attached to it, let that be up front.  I don't believe expanding the government is part of the solution.

The issue is really with the misuse of these earmarks.  And I believe that voting is the mechanism that we have in place to deal with that.

I was just pointing out that the Republican leadership is willing to take on little problems while advocating for big problems.  They're still not being honest with us.

As far as bread goes, you can look here to see the commodity indices for grains.  Even though deflationary pressure remain throughout the economy, commodities have spiked far more than the excess of liquidity should justify.

That's a big issue.

As coffee and Suger go up 3% just today

Jimmy Carter and his stupid Economic policies are back, but this time he's half black and claims he's a Harvard grad.

Cotton prices are going thru the roof also.

The only item going down, is the Adminstration.

 While Carter did not know

 While Carter did not know what to do, he did not create the inflationary mess he was in.

That mess was created by LBJ with his "guns and butter" economics. That is financing the Vietnam war and the Great Society programs. And he had the fed print the money. As inflation showed up under Nixon, he tried "wage and price controls" and failed. As inflation, interest rates, and unemployment went higher, Ford tried "Win buttons" and failed. Carter did not know what to do, but in his last year he got Paul Volcker in as head of the fed. And under Reagan, he raised the prime interest rates to 21.5% and inflation, interest rates, and unemployment  came down for over 20 years.

Enter George Bush and he does the same "guns and butter" economics. In this case, he used deficits and debt to fund the Iraq war, tax cuts, and Medicare part D. During this time, our money went to Iraq, our jobs went overseas, and we saw the neglect of our infrastructure. We are where we are, a country in a total mess and we will pay the price for the next 10 to 20 years. 


Today, the fed is printing money in hopes to create jobs, the republicans want more tax cuts in hopes to create jobs, and the democrats are lost while we keep sending our jobs overseas. You would think someone gets it, but I guess not. 

Baloney, salami, pastrami

Blame everyone except the Democrat controlled Congress since 2007 and the Democrat Majority in Both houses since 2009.

For the 2010 election its 63+ Democrats who "Bite the Dust" and set a NEW historic election wipe out record, and at the State Level 18 states Legislatures go Republican.........and as you say........"You would think someone gets it, but I guess not" certainly the "Harvard Grad" doesn't GET IT.

 As part of his many appearances for his new Book, President Bush was asked: if he authorised the use of waterboarding to get information from the captured al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he answer was unequivocal: “Damn right!”

Go buy Bush's new book, get him to sign it, and tell him you "miss him" !

Not needed

Since some 27% of the stimulus bill was not in revenues, but tax reduction, then the ill-advised Bush tax cuts are simply not needed.

&btw, these are the guys that literally wrote the book on supply-side economics back in the Reagan days.

fwiw, I saw Mike Pence, David Stockman, and Rand Paul on This Week on ABC.

Pence sounds like he's completely out-of-touch with reality, Stockman did a great job of dispelling misinformation, and Rand Paul looked really good.  If Rand Paul turns out to do half of what he talked about, he'll make a fine Congressman.


Yes, there is a lot of spending waste going on in Washington and a lot of lies as well. Hidden taxes in the "Health Care Bill" comes to mind. In light of the economy, there needs to be no earmarks, no lobbying for funding for some type of turtle or anything else until the economy gets fixed.

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