Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Psst... McCain is the pig in lipstick!

You’ve heard it all before.  Washington wastes your money.  Those damn politicians and bureaucrats can’t be trusted with your hard earned money…

Let’s let the man speak for himself:

"I can eliminate $100 billion of wasteful and earmark spending immediately--35 billion in big spending bills in the last two years, and another 65 billion that has already been made a permanent part of the budget." 

--John McCain, NPR All Things Considered, April 23, 2008

McCain’s rhetoric about earmarks is all well and good, but if they want to have a beauty contest on wasteful spending, let’s look at the facts…

McCain’s magic solution for balancing the budget, while cutting taxes massively, is really mostly nonsense.  First of all, the $100 billion figure he openly cites (nice and rounded, isn’t it?) is largely a figment of the McCain campaign's imagination.  Naw, let’s not be delicate.  It is an outright fabrication, a LIE.  A 2006 study by the Congressional Research Service reviewed earmarks by different government departments, without giving a global figure.  Scott Lilly, a former Democratic appropriations staffer who is now with the Center for American Progress Action Fund says that the CRS study identifies a total of $52 billion in earmarks for a single year. However, much of this money is tied to items such as foreign aid to countries like Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, that McCain says he will not touch.

The Office for Management and the Budget came up with a figure for $16.9 billion in the 2008 appropriation bills. Taxpayers for Commonsense, an independent watchdog group that focuses on wasteful spending, identified $18.3 billion worth of earmarks in the 2008 bills.  Let’s us the Taxpayers for Commonsense number as our working number.  Let us also be clear about that $18.3 billion figure.  It is a 23 per cent cut from a record $23.6 billion set in 2005 when Republicans were in control of Congress.

OK, so McCain proposes eliminating earmarks with a swift stroke of the veto pen (aI am pretty sure it is a stamp and then a signature, but let’s not quibble).  Taxpayers for Commonsense is quite candid that it is "difficult question that we have not yet figured out," when looking at how much can actually be eliminated. 

The figure they cite includes such items as $4 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which could not be eliminated without halting work on hundreds of construction projects around the country.  Does anyone think that the Army Corps of Engineers should stop working on the levees in New Orleans or the flood control systems along the upper Mississippi River?  Who thinks we should stop checking, repairing and maintaining our flood control dams on the Lower Colorado River in Texas or on the levees in northern California?  OK, let’s see:

$18.3 billion minus $4 billion = $14.3 billion

The next big chunk goes to military construction projects.  This includes housing for servicemen and their families.  Let’s be clear that here, again, McCain has promised not to touch funding for our men and women in uniform.

In order to shoot holes in the McCain “corrupt, free spending Washington insider” ballyhoo I tried to find data from conservative sources.  Bruce Riedl, a budget analyst with the Heritage Foundation (they don’t get much more conservative than that), says it “might” be possible to eliminate roughly half the expenditure on earmarks each year.  If we stick to using the Taxpayers for Commonsense figures that would be around $9 billion.

Reidl was sure to cite $5 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds as worthy of cutting.  This money generally goes to local governments to assess housing and urban development issues (i.e. investment in lower income neighborhoods).  I suppose that I could get behind the concept of eliminating the earmark process altogether, but many of those expenditures would end up being shifted to other parts of the budget.

Let’s assume that McCain can, as promised, preserve the elimination of frivolous earmarks.  That will save only around $10 billion a year. That is no where near the $100 billion in savings that McCain says that he can identify "immediately."  I am going to go out on a ledge and say that John McCain is lying to the voters.


The McCain campaign has since backed away from their bravado.  They now say that McCain never meant to suggest that his proposed $100 billion in savings would all come from earmarks. If that is the case and in the absence of any other proposed areas for cutting, I think we must assume that he, like President Bush, can’t cut spending to offset his tax plan and will thus further exacerbate the deficit and continue to export our debt to China.  With their experiences with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae back mortgage securities, will they want to buy our debt?  The answer, I would venture is yes.  A debtor is under the control of the lender and that is advantageous for China regardless of our ability to repay in the near term (or ever).  We can’t press China on North Korea, Iran, Russia, Darfur, climate change or a number of other urgent issues.

That isn’t change, that is more of the same!

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