Eliminating 100 Percent of Earmarks Cuts Federal Spending Less Than 0.5 Percent

November 23, 2010 - 12:59 PM

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)

Sen. James Inhofe (R--Okla.) (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Whether you use the Office of Management and Budget’s earmark numbers or Citizens Against Government Waste’s earmark numbers, eliminating 100 percent of earmarks in fiscal 2010 would have cut the federal budget by less than one-half of one percent.

Eliminating all earmarks in fiscal 2010 also would have hardly made a dent in the federal deficit, reducing it by only about a percentage point, according to the earmark calculations made by both OMB and CAGW.

In fiscal year 2010, according to the U.S. Treasury, the federal government spent $3.46 trillion while running a deficit of $1.29 trillion. Meanwhile, CAGW says earmarks accounted for $16.5 billion in federal spending, and OMB says they accounted for $11.1 billion.

The $16.5 billion in earmarks identified by CAGW equaled 0.48 percent of overall federal spending in fiscal 2010 and 1.28 percent of the deficit. The $11.1 billion in earmarks identified by OMB equaled 0.32 percent of overall federal spending and 0.86 percent of the deficit.

The numbers for fiscal 2009 were similar. That year, according to the U.S. Treasury, the federal government spent $3.52 trillion while running a deficit of $1.42 trillion. CAGW identified $19.6 trillion earmarks in fiscal 2009 spending, and OBM identified $15.95 billion.

The $19.6 billion in earmarks CAGW identified in fiscal 2009 equaled 0.56 percent of overall federal spending and 1.38 percent of the federal deficit. The $15.95 billion in earmarks OMB identified equaled 0.45 percent of overall federal spending and 1.13 percent of the federal deficit.

OMB and CAGW designate a different dollar amount for earmarks each year because they define “earmarks” somewhat differently.

OMB defines them as “funds provided by Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents Executive Branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to manage critical aspects of the funds allocation process.”

CAGW defines an earmark or “pork” line item in a federal spending bill as one that meets any of the following seven criteria; 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.”

Last Thursday, in an organizational meeting, House Republicans voted to impose a voluntary moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress that will convene in January. Senate Republicans had previously adopted an earmark moratorium.

Not all conservatives in the Senate agree with the idea, however. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), an outspoken opponent of an earmark ban, argues that a ban on earmarks does practically nothing to reduce the deficit and the size of government, but that it nonetheless hampers the ability of Congress to use its legitimate constitutional authority to restrain and direct the Executive Branch.

“Shifting the funding for an earmark from a congressional prerogative to the bureaucracy spending it doesn’t actually save any money,” Inhofe Spokesman Jared Young said. “It’s just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.”

Young said the past has shown that cutting earmarks doesn’t impact the bottomline, it simply moves the authority to spend from its rightful place in Congress to a bureaucrat appointed by President Obama.

But Leslie Page, media director for CAGW, told CNSNews.com that banishing earmarks is not about how much Congress spends, it’s the idea that bringing home pork is distracting members of Congress from their real job.

"It’s the way they spend it that matters,” said Page. “Earmarks have become a very corrupting influence in a Congress and they have spent an enormous amount of time dealing with them rather than dealing with the much bigger issues.”

“It’s the principle, it’s the money, it’s the corruptive influence,” said Page. “It’s the fact that earmarks are used to grease the skids for other legislation that can’t pass unless you’re buying peoples votes with it.”

“Senators who are holding out and saying ‘I won’t’ (vote) for something, then suddenly they have some earmarks in their district and suddenly they change their vote,” said Page. “It happens all the time. And while they have been busy earmarking the heck out of our budget, we have a deficit that’s out of control and a national debt that’s out of control.”

Each year, CAGW’s publishes a “Pig Book” which analyzes and spotlights congressional earmarks. The fiscal 2010 “Pig Book” reported that CAGW discovered 9,129 items of “pork” earmarked into congressional spending bills.