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The Official Blog of National Taxpayers Union

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Posted by Dominic Rupprecht - December 20, 2007

Andy Roth over at the Club for Growth, has some hope that the President will finally get serious on earmarks. According to Roth:
President Bush said something earlier today that has fiscal conservatives giddy with potential joy. During a press conference, he announced his disappointment with the number of earmarks in the recent Omnibus spending bill. He said: "I am instructing the budget director to review options for dealing with the wasteful spelling in the omnibus bill.”

This is president-ese for "through an executive order, I might tell the respective agencies to ignore the earmarks and to spend the money on higher priorities."

This is a HUGE deal. With his signature, Bush could effectively wipe away almost all of this year's earmarks. It would easily be the biggest achievement on wasteful spending of all time. And it would set a wonderful precedent for the future that would deter the abuse of earmarks by members of Congress.

Looks like there's a chance that taxpayers will get more than a lump of coal in their stockings this year.

Thoughts?   Add Comment -

Drew said on Dec 20 2007 at 4:45pm
Spend the money on higher priorities? I don’t believe that constitutes an improvement. We would simply be funding the pet projects of bureaucrats rather than congressmen.

Dominic Rupprecht said on Dec 20 2007 at 5:18pm
Well Drew, now I know I have a heart, because it's broken. That sounds an awful lot like what our porker pals in the Senate have to say when folks like Jim DeMint and Jeff Flake try to cut earmarks.

I'll grant you that it would be fantastic if we replaced earmark spending with, well, nothing, but as the bard once said, "you can't always get what you want." (yes, Keith Richards is a bard).

While this solution doesn't reduce overall government spending, it does correct a lot of the problems with earmarks, i.e., it replaces a secretive process with no oversight, with a process that has some accountability, competitive bidding, etc.

Granted, this is government accountability, so clearly isn't ideal, but bureaucrats don't have the incentives that Congressmen do to be completely reckless with your cash. No bureaucrat is going to do a photo-op with a bike trail, so he'll be more likely to put it towards bridge repair. Bureaucrats don't have to play nice with constituents, so they'll be less likely to divert defense funds towards a $30 million anti-drug center in Pennsylvania. And bureaucrats don't have campaign donors, so they won't be rewriting bills to divert the cash to expand highways that no one wants expanded in the middle of a Florida swamp.

Yes, bureaucrats are awful. And so is government spending. But earmarks are so awful, that I prefer the priorities of the people working in the Pentagon or Department of Labor, than I do Jack Murtha and Don Young.

Dominic Rupprecht said on Dec 20 2007 at 5:25pm
Incidentally, this is what Jeff Flake had to say about President Bush busting the Omnibus:

“Taxpayers deserve better than having their tax dollars wasted on vanity earmarks like the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service and the Lewis Center for Education Research, or more than $800 million worth of airdropped earmarks that never received even a cursory vetting,” said Flake.

“The President already has the power to block the funding for Congressional earmarks that are included in conference and committee reports instead of the bill text,” said Flake. “This would apply to the vast majority of earmarks passed in the omnibus bill.”

“I’m glad he’s giving taxpayers a promise to reduce waste as an early Christmas present and I hope that he uses the power that he has to block funding for these wasteful earmarks,” said Flake.


Drew said on Jan 02 2008 at 11:48am
Dominic, well I guess you CAN agree with those on the other side of the aisle. However, I suspect we’re acting under different motivations.

I have a book suggestion for you if you’re interested: James Bovard, Lost Rights - The Destruction of American Liberty. This book is certain to change anyone's view on transparency and efficiency within federal bureaucracies. You might also be in for far more heartbreak as the book outlines the incentives these institutions act under. It is absolutely terrifying!

I do think this is an important topic that, unfortunately, we don't hear too much about. I'll try to brush up on everything I learned in my Public Choice classes and get a few blogs up.

Drew said on Jan 02 2008 at 6:08pm
There’s another book that touches on this topic by James Rolph Edwards called Regulation, the Constitution, and the Economy. Admittedly it is a bit dry, but it can still raise some eyebrows. Here’s a taste:

“The simple truth is that regulators both pass and enforce laws, in violation of the Constitutional separation of powers, and they do so though they are appointed, not elected, in violation of the most basic principles of representative democracy.”

Edwards goes on to say that, “The same agency writes the law, investigates and accuses suspected violators, and then acts as prosecutor, judge and jury simultaneously.”

Dominic Rupprecht said on Jan 03 2008 at 11:06am
Well Drew, I don't disagree with you that bureaucracies spending our money is still a bad thing, but I still think all the evidence suggests earmarks are worse (especially because I suspect earmarks create incentives to increase overall spending in these bills). That said, I'll definitely check out the book once the stack of books I need to read gets a little smaller. That probably means I'll get to it at some point in 2010. Is there a readers digest version?