- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As viewers witnessed in Friday night’s presidential debate, the battle for the mantle of “reform” is on. But there are misunderstandings regarding earmarks and pork-barrel spending because there is no single definition for either term.

Congresspedia defines earmarking as “a provision in legislation that directs funds to be spent on specific projects.” These submissions are not necessarily wasteful, nor “illicit” or “corrupt.” In fact, voters expect legislators to address their needs and secure appropriate funds.

However, the term “earmark” is also used in a pejorative sense. According to the Office of Budget and Management (OMB), earmarks “are funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to properly manage funds.” In this sense, an earmark is a procedure in which funds are disbursed without proper oversight.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-profit watchdog group, defines earmarks or pork-barrel spending as “the insertion of personal projects into appropriations and authorization bills to try to win favor back home.” CAGW has pinpointed seven ways that pork-barrel spending occurs: “requested by only one chamber of Congress; not specifically authorized; not awarded competitively; not requested by the President; greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding; not the subject of congressional hearings; or serves only a local or special interest.”

In a January interview with FOX News’ Chris Wallace, John McCain said: “And I’m proud to tell you, Chris, in 24 years as a member of Congress, I have never asked for nor received a single earmark or pork-barrel project for my state and I guarantee you I’ll veto those bills. I’ll ask for the line-item veto and I’ll veto them and I’ll make the authors of them famous.” According to CAGW, Mr. McCain was indeed telling the truth and has consistently supported anti-earmark legislation. In 1992, Mr. McCain did support providing $5 million for a wastewater project in Nogales, Ariz. But, according to CAGW, this was not an earmark because it originated in the president’s budget.

Since he took office in January 2005, Barack Obama requested $860 million in earmarks and an additional $78 million for projects that were also being supported by other lawmakers. In 2008, Mr. Obama obtained $98 million in earmarks. Mr. Obama also sought $3.4 million in earmarks for clients of the lobbyist son of Sen. Joe Biden. One such client, St. Xavier University, received $192,000. Mr. Obama says he will not request earmarks for fiscal 2009.

In 2008, Mr. Biden obtained $85 million in earmarks. For fiscal 2009, Mr. Biden requested $323 million for 116 projects. Since 2006, members of Congress have been required to disclose their earmark requests.

The CAGW Senate scorecard is revealing: Mr. McCain has a 100 percent rating for 2007 and an 88 percent lifetime rating; Mr. Obama has a 10 percent rating for 2007 and an 18 percent lifetime rating; and Mr. Biden has a 0 percent rating for 2007 and an 18 percent lifetime rating.

However, contrary to Mr. McCain’s initial claims, Sarah Palin’s record is not as stellar. As Alaska governor, she sought $453 million worth of earmarks in two years. Mrs. Palin says she has drastically reduced earmarks: Her predecessor sought more than $350 million in his last year in office; she asked for $197 million for fiscal 2009. Were all the projects Mrs. Palin wanted to fund worthy? Her requests range from $130 million for the state’s fishing industry to money for research on rockfish and harbor-seal genetics, $487,000 for obesity prevention and $4 million to develop recreational trails. Mrs. Palin’s record is not entirely commensurate with her statements that she is an unbending reformer.

Eliminating every congressional earmark would save approximately $18 billion. This is a small fraction of the $3 trillion federal budget and the $438 billion deficit projected for 2009. Most government funding is on defense and entitlement programs. While all earmarks are not created equal, the efforts to curb them are worthy.


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