This is part two in a debate between Doug Mataconis, a contributor at Outside the Beltway and United Liberty, and Jason Pye, editor of United Liberty, over whether the current debate over earmarks is distraction from the larger fiscal issues facing the nation.
Over the last several years, there has been much debate in Congress over earmarking, which is the process of designating funds for a specific purpose in a spending bill. Critics of the practice call most of these earmarks “pork barrel projects.”
Earmarks are an issue for several reasons. They can distort the marketplace, allowing the government to pick winners and losers. More often than not, the cost of an earmark is greater than the benefit, a point that is especially true with mass transit projects. And there is almost no sunlight on how they are inserted into appropriations bill.
There also is not much public support for the practice. According to a CBS News poll conducted in 2007, 67 percent of the public viewed earmarks as “not acceptable.”
Members of Congress use the practice in order to secure funds for their districts and proudly point them out during their next campaign to prove they are in Washington to “bring home the bacon.” Leadership of parties in Congress will often use earmarks to entice members to vote a certain position on legislation. The 2003 expansion of Medicare and the 2007 emergency spending bill for Iraq are both examples of this practice.
This is part one in a debate between Doug Mataconis, a contributor at Outside the Beltway and United Liberty, and Jason Pye, editor of United Liberty, over whether the current debate over earmarks is distraction from the larger fiscal issues facing the nation.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans will take up the issue of whether to forswear earmarking during the upcoming session of Congress. On one side stands Jim DeMint who contends that earmarking is a corrupting process that helps increase the size of spending bills. On the other stands Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who contends that earmarking is an important legislative prerogative and that eliminating it would do nothing to cut Federal spending. While earmark opponents do have a point that the process can be corrupting when not done transparently, the truth is that the so-called “war on earmarks” is a diversion from the real battles that have to be fought in order to reduce the size, scope, and power of government.
Let’s take the Omnibus Spending Bill passed early last year as an example.
In my political science class we were discussing the issue of taxation. In order to better understand the issue and to balance out a lot of the negativity we inherently have towards taxation (which isn’t a bad thing) we discussed what we (personally and as a society) actually get in return for our taxes.
I decided to make a “cynical” version of the list we thought up in class. So here are ten things we get from taxes:
1 ) Drug Prohibition - Billions spent each year on making sure no one uses drugs that are “too dangerous” for us. Thank you nanny state! Except for the fatal flaw in this argument: marijuana is illegal yet more harmful substances such as alcohol and tobacco are legal. Not to mention the war on drugs is a complete and utter failure.
2 ) Overpaid Government Officials - It’s a well-known fact that city planners, parks and recreation directors, and many others in government are paid “comfortable” salaries sometimes even more than $100,000. Not only that, but many government officials have guaranteed pensions backed by the state. While people work long hours in the private (productive) sector who have to deal with 401K’s and actually saving and investing for retirement, these government officials have it made!
3 ) The Federal Reserve - Ah yes, the Federal Reserve who claims their existence is necessary to “maintain a strong currency,” have been doing just the opposite. As the dollar loses its value slowly but surely and bubbles have rocked our economy into deep recessions many times since its inception, it’s unfortunate this entity receives tax dollars from the private sector.
4 ) Foreign Aid - None of that money goes to waste, right? It all goes directly to the needy in the most efficient manner, no corruption involved! Right…
Amid more reports of Obama Administration-backed (ie. taxpayer-funded) green energy companies going under or facing severe financial problems, a new report shows that the $26 billion in so-called “investments” that have been made to prop up these companies average out to around $11 million per job:
According to the Institute for Energy Research, the Department of Energy has spent nearly $26 billion since 2009 on its Section 1703 and 1705 loan programs. However, these two programs only yielded 2,308 permanent jobs — meaning the cost to taxpayers was $11.25 million per job.
“Clearly, in terms of ‘bang for the buck,” government programs that coddle renewable energy are losers,” according to IER. “In terms of jobs, the losers are the American workers who would otherwise be gainfully employed but for the tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars on the administration’s obsession with “green energy.’”
The loans were part of the Obama Administration’s plans to create a “green economy” in the aftermath of the Great Recession. However, the loans have become symbolic of the cronyism and waste that has come with the policies it has pursued.
There’s a long list of failed “green energy” companies that have received taxpayer funding and/or tax breaks. In November, the Heritage Foundation released the names of 33 companies that received anywhere from $500,000 to $1.46 billion in taxpayer subsidies.
In the days leading up to the sequester and in the weeks since, Obama Administration officials tried to use scare tactics to drive public opinion in its favor. They called the cuts “draconian” and “unfair.” But this fearmongering hasn’t worked. In fact, President Obama’s approval ratings have taken a dive. The White House didn’t help its cause by canceling tours and then threatening the annual Easter Egg Roll.
There is a lot of waste in the federal budget or individual government departments that still could be cut. The latest comes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which has spent your dollars on a horribly produced Star Trek-themed training video. CBS News filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the video:
CBS News filed a Freedom of Information request asking for the video after the IRS earlier refused to turn over a copy to the congressional committee that oversees tax issues: House Ways and Means. According to committee Chairman Charles Boustany, Jr. (R-LA), the video was produced in the IRS’s own television studio in New Carrollton, MD. The studio may have cost taxpayers more than $4 million dollars last year alone.
Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
The fiscal cliff is looming and Washington is scrambling to reach a deal to avoid a Thelma and Louise ending in January. To start, policymakers need to identify spending cuts, and they could begin with Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) just-released report on wasteful and duplicative spending in the Pentagon. The report identifies savings totaling at least $67.9 billion over the next decade in the Department of Defense. The common thread linking these disparate recommendations—from axing non-military research and development projects ($6 billion) to eliminating Pentagon-operated grocery stores ($9 billion)—is that the expenditures “have little to do with national security” and therefore could be implemented “without impacting our national security.” “Many of these programs, initiatives or research projects,” the report explains:
may serve worthy interests, but should not be the job of our military tasked with fighting and winning the nation’s wars.
The Club for Growth has been targeting big government Republicans for years, so endorsing Sen. Dick Lugar’s more fiscally conservative opponent, Richard Mourdock, was expected. But they’ve been hitting the Washington veteran especially hard recently, especially now that Mourdock is in striking distance.
Earlier this week, the Club for Growth made a signficant buy for an ad that ties Lugar to the $15 trillion national debt and slams him for backing the Wall Street bailout, gas and payroll tax hikes, and opposing spending cuts. And they’re not stopping there.
Yesterday, the Club for Growth released a detailed report showing some of the earmarks that Sen. Lugar has supported and the dollar amounts of pork that he has managed to take home to Indiana. The Club for Growth also points out that Lugar has showed little interest in reforming the earmark process and has voted against a ban on earmarking.
Here is a profile in government waste. A high-speed rail line in California, part of President Barack Obama’s vision for the future of transportation, has just seen its costs and estimated completion rise dramatically:
Faster than a speeding bullet train, the cost of the state’s massive high-speed rail project has zoomed to nearly $100 billion — triple the estimate given to voters and more than enough to run the entire state government for a year.
What’s more, bullet trains won’t be up and running until at least 2033, much later than the original estimate of 2020, although that depends on the state finding the remaining 90 percent of the funds needed to complete the plan.
The new figures come from a final business plan to be unveiled by the California High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday, though some of the details were leaked to the media, including this newspaper, on Monday. Officials at the rail authority did not respond to repeated requests for comment Monday.
The new business plan pegs the price tag at $98.5 billion, accounting for inflation — more than double the estimate of $42.6 billion from two years ago, when it was already the priciest public works development in the nation. It’s a little less than triple the estimate of $33.6 billion voters were told when they approved the project in 2008. By comparison, the total state budget this year is $86 billion.
It’s hard to call that a “business plan.” When you say that you think of an idea eventually making money or at least paying for itself. This high-speed rail line is a boondoggle that will drain taxpayer dollars for as long as it exists.
So much for that earmark ban. According to CNN, the defense spending bill that cleared the House on Thursday contains a provision that will allow members to spend freely on projects back home:
The defense bill that just passed the House of Representatives includes a back-door fund that lets individual members of Congress funnel millions of dollars into projects of their choosing.
This is happening despite a congressional ban on earmarks — special, discretionary spending that has funded Congress’ pet projects back home in years past, but now has fallen out of favor among budget-conscious deficit hawks.
Under the cloak of a mysteriously-named “Mission Force Enhancement Transfer Fund,” Congress has been squirreling away money — like $9 million for “future undersea capabilities development,” $19 million for “Navy ship preliminary design and feasibility studies,” and more than $30 million for a “corrosion prevention program.”
Roughly $1 billion was quietly transferred from projects listed in the president’s defense budget and placed into the “transfer fund.” This fund, which wasn’t in previous year’s defense budgets (when earmarks were permitted), served as a piggy bank from which committee members were able to take money to cover the cost of programs introduced by their amendments.
And take they did.
When the problem is $125 billion in improper payments, $100 million is no answer. However, that’s what President Obama is proposing with a new pilot program that will allegedly curb some of the $125 billion in payments sent to dead people, prisoners, and possibly cartoon characters. What’s my source? Why the White House’s Office of Management and Budget blog, that’s what.
From the blog post (emphasis mine)
As part of the President’s committment to crack down on improper payments he created the Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation, to help States and localities find ways to save taxpayer dollars and deliver benefits more efficiently and effectively. The “Collaborative Forum,” a group of 200+ state and local administrators and other stakeholders involved in the benefit delivery process, has been working to generate ideas for innovative pilot projects to reduce errors, fraud, and waste. As a result of their efforts, OMB is announcing four exciting new pilot projects focused on reducing improper payments.
These pilot investments could lead to at least $100 million in annual savings if the pilots are successfully scaled up and will provide hard data about how Federal agencies as well as States and localities can save money and significantly improve program integrity, service delivery and efficiency.