Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 28, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

EARMARKS....President Bush plans to demonstrate his fiscal toughness tonight:

In his State of the Union address tonight, Bush will promise to "veto any spending bill that does not succeed in cutting earmarks in half from 2008 levels," deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said in an e-mail.

Bush will issue an executive order tomorrow directing federal agencies to ignore any earmarks included only in committee reports, not in the text of legislation.

I've never been quite as exercised as some people about the whole earmark thing, since earmarks mostly just redirect spending, they don't increase it. Still, it's gotten out of hand and I'm fine with Bush making threatening noises about it.

That said, the newfound Republican religion on earmarks is a little hard to take seriously, isn't it? They were all for them back when Republican districts got 60% of the pork, but suddenly they're outraged when Republican districts only get 40%. Methinks they protest too loudly.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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SOTU tonight? Great! I'll have some free time to read...

Posted by: nepeta on January 28, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

I remember a few years ago the local paper printed, within the space of a week, front-page articles condemning Washington for too much pork-barrel spending and condeming our Congressional delegation for not bringing home enough pork money.

Posted by: ArkPanda on January 28, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Supporters of Democrats should wonder why their representatives in Congress are not protesting too loudly every time the president utters nonsense and lies. The Democrats in Congress will not shout down president W. Bush nor even hiss and boo his most regressive pronouncements, but they will expect progressives, liberals and even leftists to vote for them as the only alternative to Republicans and their leaders.

Posted by: Brojo on January 28, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

It's even worse than that, Kevin. Not only were Republican Congresscritters getting most of the pork, but they presided over an unprecedented expansion of the pork, all with virtually no comment or protest from Bush or from the Republican leadership.

Posted by: PaulB on January 28, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

State of the Union '02: Murka, tair, murka
State of the Union '03: Murka, tair, murka
State of the Union '04: Murka, tair, murka
State of the Union '05: Murka, tair, murka
State of the Union '06: Murka, tair, murka
State of the Union '07: Murka, tair, murka
State of the Union '08 (PREDICTION): Murka, tair, murka

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on January 28, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Way to take a strong stand against waste, Mr. President. What with there having been $13.2 billion in earmarks in 2007, out of a total budget of $2.8 trillion, cutting earmarks in half should save 0.02% of the federal budget next year. For Bush, an improvement at the 0.0002 level is still movement in the positive direction. . .

Posted by: RSA on January 28, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

What, precisely, would be the punishment if a member of Congress were to pie a President during a SOTU?

Posted by: Matt on January 28, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

You know what they say about lame ducks backed into corners.

Watch your ankles.

Posted by: B on January 28, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what Murka, tair, murka means, but State of the Union '04 was MARS.

Posted by: reino on January 28, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Every four years, the GOP makes noise about massively cutting government spending by ending pork and earmarks. Look at the fine print, however. If they got everyone of their wish list enacted, spending would fall by only $30 billion per year. Compare that to the $550 billion per year general fund deficit. Heck compare that to the likely increases in DoD spending that we'd get from more neocon insanity that permeates GOP foreign policy discussions. The notion that they can keep taxes low by ending pork and earmarks simply tells me that Republicans need to take remedial first grade arithmetic.

Posted by: pgl on January 28, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Murka, tair, murka" = "America, Terror, America"

Posted by: DJ on January 28, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Matt & B, Funny! Thanks for the laugh.

Posted by: nepeta on January 28, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

And DJ!

Posted by: nepeta on January 28, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's step on earmarks is pretty feeble, since it doesn't begin until the 2009 budget. Furthermore, even if Congress cuts the earmarks in the spending bill in half, they can attach the other half to various other bills.

Still, even lip service is better than nothing.

BTW I think earmarks are more-or-less legalized corruption. The typical earmark is given in exchange for a big donation of money to the Congressman or Senator. Some are even given to the Congressman himself.

Kevin is right that the Republicans deserve no praise, given their abuse of earmarks. However, earmark control could become a Republican issue if they continue to press for it.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 28, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

OT, but important. Clinton and Obama to be in Senate for vote:

"The White House surveillance bill squeeze stepped up to another level over the weekend. So the scene is set for an ol' fashioned cloture vote rumble this afternoon at 4:30."

TPM Muckraker

Posted by: nepeta on January 28, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

It wasn't even that GOP reps got more earmark monies, or even that the number of earmarks expanded (although these are both true and to be bemoaned). The reason that these are both true, is that without earmarks doled out by The Hammer, nothing Bush wanted would have made it through Congress. Before 9/11, and to a large extend after as well, earmarks or the threat of their withholding same, were the primary method of moving unpopular bills (thanks to DeLay, Santorum, and the rest of the K Street project).

Posted by: jhm on January 28, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Cut earmarks in half? Easy, just cut out the Republican ones.

Posted by: Patrick on January 28, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK


IN first place, of course, it's unlikely that the people have the most power to get an earmark are the same ones with the most pressing national needs. Sure, TIp O'Neill got Cambridge and Somerville a Red LIne subway extension, but I'm sure there were more pressing national needs (picking an earmark aimed at a district I was in.)

But, more to the point, and more important, the bulk of the earmarks come from the defense budget. There is no way to make the case that local Congressmen should have a higher priority in determining national defense priorities than the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the service commanders.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 28, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

I wish he would try to pay for the trillion dollar war he started. You know, before slinging crap at everyone else. Bush is the reason for the profligate deficits. Just saying.

Posted by: Sparko on January 28, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Compared to the amount of money President Bush has blown for his political priorities, it's silly for him to make congressional earmarks a national priority. Seems to me the process already in place that highlights such earmarks like that bridge to Nowhere, Alaska works well enough to curb most earmark excesses.

IMO, it's just another attempt by Bush to try and distract popular attention like the steroids in baseball mention in last year's SOTU, and this won't go far in doing that either.

Posted by: David W. on January 28, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK
Still, even lip service is better than nothing.....ex-lax at 1:09 PM
Echoing Bill Bennett that hypocrisy is better than no moral values at all, ex-lax confirms IOKIYR. After all, it was fine when Barbara Bush earmarked her contribution to her S&L son. Posted by: Mike on January 28, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP has successfully converted the debate over governmental mismanagement and fraud to furor over earmarks. There is nothing wrong with the fact that Congress can direct how public funds should be spent . The problem is that the GOP used this process to bypass career professional advice within the executive branch, reward cronies and paymasters by awarding noncompetitive contracts, and generally waste the public's money. They have now changed the topic to earmarks. Democrats need to fight and win on this issue. Doing so successfully will require humiliating and exposing current and former GOP members of Congress.

Posted by: rk on January 28, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's step on earmarks is pretty feeble

No more so, or more dishonest, than your postings here, "ex-liberal."

Posted by: Gregory on January 28, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

ex-lib: Still, even lip service is better than nothing.

according to who?

larry craig?

Posted by: mr. irony on January 28, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. If you stand in just the right position with the sun at your back and squint, you can actually discern a shred of criticism of Democrats in Kevin's posting.

Who knew it was possible?

Posted by: am on January 28, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Whether by earmarks or transparent appropriation, Congress and the administration should get back on the ball and restore the federal commitment to medical and health research.

Early in his first term, President Bush recommended budgets that strengthened research through the National Institutes of Health. However, since then, he has proposed budgets that undercut decades of sustained investment in research which has drastically reduced early deaths from heart disease and stroke and even reduced cancer deaths.

Bush will talk tonight about short-term economic stimuli and getting rid of pork, but ignoring the need for increase research funding spells long-term economic stagnation.

Research ensures our ability to compete in the global marketplace and helps fuel local economies all over the country. Yet for five years, the federal research budget has been flat. When federal funding for research stalls, private research spending ultimately stalls, too, resulting in a downward spiral that costs lives, costs jobs, and deters smart young people from choosing careers in science. We must reverse the current trend.

Research!America, the nation’s largest not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority, has good information and analysis on the impact of federal research support on the economy. www.researchamerica.org

Posted by: IraRAllen on January 28, 2008 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe I'm just being really dense right now, but if earmarks are redirected spending, as opposed to increased spending, why do people insist on cutting them as a way of cutting spending? (I'm aware that they aren't very large in comparison to the federal budget as a whole, but leave that aside for now.)

Posted by: Brian on January 28, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK


I got one. See this scar? I got it when my son kicked me while changing his diaper.

It was a stinky one too. Just lak the SOTU coming up 2nite.

Go gettem' George!

Down with earmarks.

Hip hip hurray for your cojones to stand up to govimint waste!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 28, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

House Dems should applaud loudly, then pass a budget that eliminates earmarks from every single GOP district.

Posted by: Brautigan on January 28, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Since it seems impossible to really do away with earmarks, how about adopting a rational system to control/administer them?

Allocate an agreed-dollar amount to each congressional district every year, and to each state (with the aggregate amount being substantially less than the current total of earmarks). Let each Congressman and Senator designate a program or use for his/her allocated earmark amount, but require each proposal to be reviewed and approved by a non-partisan or bi-partisan staff. The staff review will consider the job creation impact, social benefit and perhaps other relevant factors in deciding if the proposal is acceptable. The staff would also review the proposals to ensure that no Representative/Senator, nor their immediate family or supporters, would be beneficiaries of the earmark spend, and the submitting Rep/Senator would be required to personally attest to this fact. Take a small part of the annual savings in the total amount of earmarked funds and use it to hire a competent and fair staff for this purpose. This way, we can at least try to limit earmarks to projects that actually help the economy by adding jobs or benefit the community.

Posted by: Don F on January 28, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

The Dems should meet Bush halfway on this and reduce earmarks by 50% from fy 2007 levels, the last Republican budget. They've already done 25%, so making that other 25% cut should be easy enough on everyone. If Bush still wants to veto legislation let him. Then the Dems can counter by cutting all Republican earmarks and 10% of the Dems. Seems fair. If the President really wants to start playing politics with this after all those years of pork, let his party pay the price.

Posted by: majun on January 28, 2008 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, I was too busy switching off MSNBC to avoid vomiting at the sight of Roger Stone giving us his brilliant insights into the speech. Something about Bush brilliantly tying all sorts of things together and really "making it work," the way Bush always does.

They always say, "He really has an opportunity tonight to...."

Posted by: Anon on January 28, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

...earmarks mostly just redirect spending, they don't increase it...

It's a question of who gets to decide. Do you want technocrats allocating funds according to formulas, or Congresscritters allocating funds according to who begs for it loudest? As ex-liberal said, earmarks go to contributors.

Take Don Young's Coconut Road. The Alaska Congressman earmarked the I-75 interchange in Florida because "the community" asked for it. In this case, "the community" was not the county, which didn't want the money, but a land developer who hosted a fundraiser for Young.

To let bureaucrats decide where money is spent is, according to Don Young, "bass ackwards."

Posted by: Grumpy on January 28, 2008 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Suddenly Bush is against earmarks. Could it be because his party can't sell them anymore? Besides-who cares-the Chinese are paying for them anyway.

Posted by: nonheroicvet on January 29, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

obama has no business being president. he cant even begin to compare himself to President Kennedy. Clinton has a better chance of bringing this country out of then mess bush has gotten us into.

Posted by: Frank Tatroe on February 2, 2008 at 2:48 AM | PERMALINK



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