Tin Ears

Most rational followers of the political scene understand that if real fiscal reform is to take place the spending cuts will need to be deep and painful.  Simply saying “spend less money” does not a solution make.  In order to regain control of the careening deficit Congress is going to have to make significant cuts to important entitlement programs, potentially at a great political cost to the decision makers.  Saying “cut everything” is easy.  Actually cutting funds for education, social services, defense is not.  Whether or not Congress actually goes through with these cuts is another story. But one would think that to lessen the blow of these extreme cuts Congress should try to pick the low hanging fruit and save money whenever and wherever they can, right?

So here we are, one week after a convincing GOP victory in the mid-term elections – a victory aided in no small part by a desire for fiscal sanity on Capitol Hill.   As the next Congress weighs their options and prepares for what they promised would be a return to conservative fiscal values what do they do?  They fight about maintaining the status quo.

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a champion of conservative candidates like Florida’s Marco Rubio and Utah’s Mike Lee, announced Tuesday that he will push Senate Republicans to vote to make “earmarking” — the process by which lawmakers can set aside federal funds for pet projects in their home states — expressly against internal GOP rules.

Six of the new GOP freshmen, including five who received backing from DeMint during their campaigns, have signed on to his proposal.

Sounds promising, right?  Well then, you are obviously unfamiliar with the Republicans who were in charge of Congress from 2000-2006.

But, while DeMint and other Senate fiscal conservatives argue that so-dubbed “pork barrel spending” wastes taxpayer dollars and facilitates fishy political back-scratching, other Republicans say that a ban would do little to curb government spending and would put more control into the hands of government agencies rather than lawmakers who best understand their constituents.

“This debate doesn’t save any money, which is why it’s kind of exasperating to some of us who really want to cut spending and get the federal government’s discretionary accounts under control,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma was even more blunt. “The ban doesn’t accomplish anything,” he told POLITICO.

Earmarks are a nifty way for Congress to cram pork into a bill (regardless of whether or not the pork has anything to do with the subject of the bill) without the item having to be subjected to debate.  In addition to being largely free from review or oversight due to their secretive nature, earmarks are often used to pay back political favors or buy influence in a home district.  And lastly they allow Congress to find ways of spending every dime of appropriated funds instead of running a surplus.

I am not naive enough to think that any organization, public or private, would not spend their entire budget if that budget is allocated to them.  That’s how budgets are.  But if I am a member of Congress facing a staggering deficit and potentially career ending choices in program spending cuts I would think that relatively small gestures such as reforming the earmark process would be a great signal of your dedication to restoring fiscal responsibility.  If funds are needed for projects in a representative’s home district let them bring it before the entire body.  If they are not necessary or would not survive scrutiny by Congress then they will have to wait.  More pressing concerns exist and money needs to be saved.  It is pennies when compared to the deficit as a whole, but every little bit helps.  If only our new majority party were unified in this belief.

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5 Responses to Tin Ears

  1. Drae says:

    At the end of the day – it’s not earmarks that are bankrupting this country. This is, in my humble opinion, a way for the Senate republicans to appear as though they are doing something about the deficit, when the real reform is needed in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and well as fundamental tax reform. (And ending the Drug War.)

    This is a fancy Washington DC smoke and mirrors show.

    • Gripweed says:

      I state as much in my comments. Removing earmarks is a very small step in a larger endeavor. My point is that if Republicans are unwilling to make that one small step in a year in which they are preaching fiscal reform then there is little hope that they will be willing to make the larger sacrifices required to keep SS and Medicare/caid solvent. Especially when the cuts that are required may be damaging to their careers.

  2. Drae says:

    The real problem, imo, is the GOP was caught off-guard by the Tea Party movement, latched onto “fiscal responsibility” because it was THE buzz-word of the election, and now we can all see they’ve got nothing. Like tiny band-aids for a major flesh wound.

    And yes – ALL politicians’ careers are at stake, because no one really wants anything cut or taxes raised, but that’s what we’re going to have to do. The more they lie and continue to BS us, the worse it will be in the long run for them. And the worse the financial implications will be for future generations. We can’t keep punting the ball.

  3. roopost says:

    Drae, Gripweed,

    Of particular interest to those of us on the outside of this matter is the nature of the collaboration that must occur to enact any reasoned cuts and planned limitations on spending that will not cripple the US economy, or impair the programs people will depend upon now, and in the future.

    As Drae points out, ‘anything cut and taxes raised’ is likely as an opening strategy, however as Britain is discovering while there may be a passion to address the pain, the decisions made now will have impact on future decisions. While Britain is sharing aircraft carriers with France, will the US be sharing medical services with Canada?

    As the politicians return from the battlefields of the election, it would be best that passion is left at the campaign headquarters, and sensibility and practicality replaces rhetoric. At this moment, this seems unlikely. However calmer heads may yet prevail.

    Kind regards,

    • Gripweed says:

      Excellent points and thank you for sharing your point of view. It is very easy to drift in and out of the “passion” of the recently (and thankfully) ended elections. You are correct that now is the time for the cooler heads among us to prevail.

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