The $410 billion budget that President Obama says he will sign into law probably contains the most earmarks ever for any one piece of legislation, a Heritage Foundation expert tells Newsmax.
“As far as I can tell, this is likely the most earmarks ever in a single piece of legislation,” says Brian M. Riedl, a federal-budget expert for the conservative Heritage think tank.
Several watch dog groups are issuing reports analyzing the massive amounts of pork in the 2009 omnibus spending proposal the House of Representatives approved last week. The Senate is currently debating its own version of the spending authorization bill.
Just a few of the programs that Congress, during the worst economic downturn in over 25 years, deems worthy of funding with taxpayer dollars: $6.6 million for Formosan subterranean termites, also according to Heritage.
In all, Riedl calculates that the omnibus bill contains 9,287 earmarks. Other organizations put the number at between 8,570 and 9,000, not including the “hidden earmarks” that are not identified as such.
By way of comparison, Riedl says the entire number of earmarks approved by Congress for all of 2005 – which tallied the most earmarks in a single year -- was 13,977.
“The average taxpayer should be disgusted that after all the promises of change, it’s business as usual in Washington,” Riedl tells Newsmax. “Even with the recession, even with large budget deficits, even with a Democratic president and Congress, the pork gravy train continues to roll just like it did before.”
The total dollar value of the 2009 omnibus bill’s earmarks is estimated to be $14.3 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. That’s actually lower than the 2008 total of $14.8 billion.
On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposed keeping federal spending at last year’s levels, which would have saved an estimated $32 billion. McCain’s amendment was defeated by a 63-32 vote margin – nine GOP senators voted against his proposal -- suggesting that senators aren’t willing to back off of the targeted spending add-ons that win them favor back in their home districts.
During the debate over McCain’s motion, Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, complained that McCain’s proposal failed to account for the impact of inflation, and therefore could result in program cutbacks.
The $410 billion increases federal spending by 8 percent, not including the $787 billion spending bill passed by Congress last month which funds many of the same programs. The 8 percent bump is more than twice the rate of inflation for 2008. Many economists expect inflation to further decline this year, due to the faltering economy.
Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has objected that many of earmarks, which are sponsored by both parties, are “obviously quid pro quo in terms of earmarks and campaign contributions.”
Members of Congress and the Obama administration point out that earmarks represent a small fraction of the bill’s total spending. Ryan Alexander, the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, tells Newsmax that argument cuts both ways, however.
“Because if this is in fact minutia, why is Congress spending so much time on it?” she asks.
Alexander adds, “We shouldn’t be spending a single dime in a place where we don’t need to be. We’ve got to be sure that now, more than ever, we’re putting money where it counts.”
Nor are watchdogs and analysts sympathetic to spinmeisters who argue the bill is a 2008 holdover from the Bush administration, and therefore shouldn’t be attributed to Obama.
“President Obama will be the president who signs the earmarks into law,” Riedl says. “And the reason the budget was kicked into 2009 was because President Bush refused to sign these earmarks into law. So for President Obama to sign earmarks that President Bush had refused, certainly gives him responsibility for the pork.”
Says Alexander, “This may not all be his fault, but it is all his problem. He’s the president, he’s the one who’s going to sign the bill.”
She adds, “Does he deserve blame for everything that’s in this bill? Probably not. But he needs to take responsibility for everything that’s in this bill.”
As with other aspects of his presidency, Obama may be finding that the realities of Washington politics are making it difficult for him to live up to expectations raised by campaign promises of a new, more honorable brand of politics.
In the September 2008 debate against McCain at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Obama said, “Absolutely we need earmark reform, and when I am president we will go line by line to make sure we’re not spending money unwisely.”
On Monday, in a speech from the Senate floor, McCain slammed Obama for his willingness to sign the earmark-laden legislation.
"So much, so much for the promise of change," McCain declared.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House will draft new guidelines on earmarks for future legislation.
Other earmarks in the bill, several of which are sponsored by Republicans, which have become targets for critics include: