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« Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 390 -- Minimum Wage. | WILLisms.com | Barack Obama: There's No 'There' There »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 391 -- Entitlements Versus Earmarks.

Pork Ain't Nothin' Compared To A Few Select Programs Running On Auto-Pilot-

Pork spending has exploded in recent years:

The number of congressional spending earmarks totaled 10,656 in fiscal 2004 (costing $23 billion), 13,997 in 2005 ($27 billion) and just under 10,000 this past fiscal year ($29 billion).

WOW! Explosion! Ka-plow!


Okay, maybe not.


Similar to last year's numbers, from FY05 (Oct. 2004 - Sept. 2005) to FY06 (Oct. 2005 - Sept. 2006), pork spending went up by two billion dollars, while mandatory spending not including net interest automatically increased by 102 billion dollars.

Now, one might quibble with the definition of "pork." Indeed, many Americans might consider the entirety of federal spending outside of "providing for the common defense" to be "pork." One could also easily make the case that certain wasteful habits within otherwise valid departments and programs are "pork" (fully refundable plane tickets that go unused, government building thermostats set too low in the summer and too high in the winter, etc.)

And while wasteful government spending certainly is bad any way you slice it, to be classified as pork, a government expenditure simply must meet one of the following criteria, developed by Citizens Against Government Waste, the authority on pork:

* Requested by only one chamber of Congress;

* Not specifically authorized;

* Not competitively awarded;

* 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.

So, ~1% of the federal budget-- 9,963 projects total over the course of 11 appropriations bills in FY2006-- was pork. That's just under 100 dollars for every man, woman, and child in America.

Cause of concern, particularly when you add the cumulative pork identified by CAGW since 1991: $241 billion. That's real money. More than 800 dollars for every single man, woman, and child in America today.

Meanwhile, annual mandatory spending (which runs on auto-pilot) has grown to more than 1.4 trillion dollars:


Per household, that's quite a bit of moolah:


Note the dramatic ratcheting up just after LBJ's time in office. Indeed, "The Great Society" drastically increased the mandatory household burden:

Mandatory spending per household has increased over $8,817 since 1962, with 50 percent of that increase occurring between 1962 and 1983.

And as the Baby Boomers begin retiring in droves, we're looking at a sustained ratcheting effect greater than the post-LBJ era ratcheting. That's why reforming and modernizing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid NOW is so darned important.

In other words, even if Congress ends earmarking and conquers pork, it's still hardly noteworthy in the big picture. If Democrats are willing to eliminate earmarking for a year or two (I'll believe it when I see it), they'll only do it in order to earn some "fiscal responsibility" political capital which they will turn around and spend, tenfold.

It's truly brilliant politics, too. Make the symbolic gesture toward spending restraint, get away with not reforming Social Security. Forgo that new science museum in your district, get away with filling in the "donut hole" in Medicare's new prescription drug benefit. Give up the bike path, get away with taking us one step closer to socialized medicine.

Clearly not equal tradeoffs, but in this media environment, they might as well be. In 2006, Americans clearly believed Republicans failed to control the growth of spending; Congressional Republicans paid for it at the ballot box. Had GOP House members and/or Senators taken note of the growing grassroots porkbusting angst in 2003/2004 and eliminated earmarking entirely in 2005 and 2006, it not only would have averted much of the libertarian abandonment of the Republican Party at the polls, it would have boosted the Social Security reform effort.

Had "pork" had been completely eliminated but "record" (not my term) deficits persisted, it would have begged the question, "why, then, is government spending increasing so rapidly?"

Answer: entitlement spending explosion.

For example, annual Social Security spending has gone up by $147,050,000,000 (147.1 billion) since 2001, to $548,573,000,000 (548.6 billion) in FY2006 (.pdf). SINCE 2001. We now spend 147 billion additional dollars per year on Social Security than we did in 2001. Automatically.

Showing some spending restraint on pork/earmarks would have earned Republicans some street cred on the overarching theme of fiscal responsibility, and it would have made it exceedingly difficult for the media and the Democrats to stymie reform.

Now, however, Democrats can come off as angels if they actually do eliminate earmarks, and their halo will pave the way for far more deep-rooted fiscal irresponsibility.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Minimum Wage Is Annoyingly Bad.

Posted by Will Franklin · 21 December 2006 12:31 AM


I hear people say that they don't believe our country is "Ready for a black or a woman President". I just don't think that our country is ready for Obama OR Hillary...

Posted by: zsa zsa at December 21, 2006 04:23 PM