Thursday, November 18, 2010

Republicans' Earmarks Ban: Deficit-Reduction Posturing

Senator Mitch McConnell (left) of Kentucky is among the Republican Senators who are supporting a two-year ban on earmarks, congressionally directed spending for state projects. They hope to show their base, including the Tea Party, that they're serious about deficit reduction. How serious are they? First, consider what earmarks actually amount to:

Millions of Americans are out of work. The government is running a $1.3 trillion deficit. We just had an election that sent at least one clear signal: cut that deficit. So what is Washington talking about? Earmarks, the $15.9 billion in projects designated by Congress in the last fiscal year for favorite projects. That’s less than half of 1 percent of federal spending.

Now consider their top economic priority, permanently extending the Bush tax cuts for all, including the wealthiest:

Permanent cuts would bust the budget. Extending all of them would cost nearly $4 trillion over the next decade — $3.2 trillion for the so-called middle-class cuts and $700 billion for the richest Americans. There is no plausible level of spending cuts to offset the damage; the result would be chronic deficits and debilitating debt.

What motivates the Republicans to take a stand on earmarks?

Republicans in the House and Senate are to vote this week on prohibiting earmarks, which have become a symbol of government excess and backroom dealing, although they account for a very small part of the overall budget.

The Republicans, then, are interested in "symbolically" cutting spending. They certainly aren't interested in really doing so. They're ready to attack projects that add up to $15.9 billion annually while adding $3.2 trillion, including $700 billion for the wealthiest, to the deficit over the next decade.

Let's not forget that McConnell can't conceive of the fact that tax cuts are paid for and add to the deficit. In any event, the earmarks ban doesn't add up; it's nothing more than Republican deficit-reduction posturing. The Republicans hope to impress their base with their earmarks ban. Their real agenda is to extend the Bush tax cuts and shovel more cash at the rich, deficit be damned.

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