Earmarks? Don’t talk about earmarks!

It was ridiculous when John McCain thought cutting earmarks could save the economy on the campaign trail, and it’s still a waste of breath now. The omnibus budget bill that passed last week contained a fair number of earmarks, and John McCain raised the alert on his twitter account:

John McCain (R-AZ) is mad about sidewalks

John McCain (R-AZ) is mad about sidewalks

 

#1. $935,000 for Pasteurization of Shell Eggs, MO

#4. $50,000 for the City of Charlotte for gang prevention

#5. $237,500 for Vienna Sidewalk Construction, Vienna VA

Et cetera. But here’s the thing: cutting $50,000 for gang prevention efforts in Charlotte isn’t going to make Citibank float, it isn’t going to make bad mortgage lenders and bad mortgage getters reverse be able to go back in time and decide against that adjustable rate mortgage, and it’s not going to make GM cut any fewer jobs. It will probably make the people who live in Charlotte have to deal with more gangs.

In general, I don’t have a huge problem with earmarks; we should be fiscally responsible about them (as in, don’t issue them without raising taxes/cutting other spending to pay for them), but right now I just can’t get excited about where that $50,000 is coming from. Maybe it’s because that $50,000 will hire someone/pay someone for services in Charlotte and thereby stimulate the economy. Maybe it’s because fewer gangs in Charlotte means less crime and higher property values and less obstruction to commerce. Maybe it’s because we’re in a huge recession and we need all of that stimulation that we can get. Or maybe it’s because blowards like

Sen. Mitch McConnell requested over $50 million in earmarks, and then voted for McCain's anti-earmark amendment. Apologies for the extreme close up.

Sen. Mitch McConnell requested over $50 million in earmarks, and then voted for McCain's anti-earmark amendment. Apologies for the extreme close up.

McCain et al. are blowharding about earmarks which comprise of only 2% of the entire spending in the bill! They are in all worth about $8bn, which even before the special events that necessitated the government spending in the stimulus and TARP packages, does not even touch the federal deficits run during the Bush years.

Earmarks comprise a tiny, teeny (and legitimate) portion of the federal budget, and going all out to eliminate them (or vote for McCain’s unsuccessful amendment to the omnibus spending bill to cut them out [note: you could still get all huffy about it and vote for the amendment, even if you put a ton of earmarks in there yourself]) would make a teeny, tiny dent in the deficit. And even then, it may not; earmarks are often stimulative and good for the economy (a better way to ease the deficit). In short, earmarks
 

are the political equivalent of a big, slow softball floating toward the plate. Politically, it’s as pointless to be “for” earmarks as it is to be “against” moms and apple pie.

Coming out strong against earmarks is like taking a huge hack at the softball, and maybe even knocking it for a solid triple. But in the big leagues, you don’t play with a softball, and the pitches aren’t that easy to hit. In other words, they are largely irrelevant; we have bigger fish to fry. Our representatives shouldn’t be wasting so much time on them. Maybe McCain and his fellow opportunists should take a note from Coach Mora [simply substitute “earmarks” for “playoffs”]:

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