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Cutting Earmarks Do Not Save Money

An earmark is a legislative provision that directs monies to be spent on specific projects or gives specific exemptions from taxes and mandated fees. Earmarks are usually referred to “pork barrel” legislation but, in fact, they are two different things. While I agree there is a lot of overlap, there is a critical difference and should NOT be confused as the same. You see, earmarks are “objective” in determination, while “pork” is subjective.

I guess the easiest way to define an earmark is to say it is a guarantee of federal monies to recipients in appropriations-related type documents. They are funds provided by Congress for programs where the congressional direction circumvents the Executive Branch merit based allocations and processes.

In layman’s terms, Congress controls the purse strings and is supposed to determine where the money is spent. Whatever Congress does not spend, the Executive branch can do so within its competitive process since all monies not spent by Congress are usable by the Executive. Since Congress wants to garner favor with the community at large it uses earmarks to pay back lobbyist etc who have contributed large sums of funds to their campaign.

Most civilian people look at earmarks in different ways but the general public sees it as: my state sends so much money to Washington so it is OK if Washington sends it back to us in terms of earmarks. This is basically what happens except that not all states get back what they put in and some states get back more then what they put in. In other words, when you break it down, some states give their money to other states instead of helping themselves.

I did find the numbers for 2005 state per dollar of federal spending on the Tax Data website at

New Mexico $2.03          Mississippi $2.02          Alaska $1.84          Louisiana $1.78
West Va $1.76               N. Dakota $1.68           Alabama $1.53       S. Dakota $1.53

Kentucky $1.51              Virginia $1.51              Montana $1.47       Hawaii $1.44
Maine $1.41                  Arkansas $1.41            Oklahoma $1.36     S.Carolina $1.35
Missouri $1.32               Maryland $1.30            Tennessee $1.27    Idaho $1.21
Arizona $1.19                Kansas $1.12               Wyoming $1.11      Iowa $1.10
Nebraska $1.10             Vermont $1.08             N. Carolina $1.08   

Pennsylvania $1.07       Utah $1.07                   Indiana $1.05         Ohio $1.05
Georgia $1.01               Rhode Island $1.00       Florida $.97            Texas $.94
Oregon $.93                 Michigan $.92                Washington $.88    Wisconsin $.86
MA $.82                       Colorado $.81               Delaware $.77         Illinois $.75
Minnesota $.72             NH $.71                       CT $.69                   Nevada $.65
New Jersey $.61

Now, with all that being said, just how much do earmarks cost us compared to the deficit our country is running? Well, let us look at that and see. You can have a variety of earmarks like various transportation projects such a tri-rail systems. Or maybe scientific earmarks like fruit laboratories etc. When you add them all up, the total sum is approximately $16 billion per year. When looking at our federal deficit that grows by about $4 billion per day that makes the earmarks spent as little as one percent of the real problem.

I grant you that one percent is a good chunk but it is nothing compared to real costs of other programs. The highest cost of government spending is in health care, Social Security and other entitlement programs. It is a good ploy by the most recent campaigners to try and show how they have “gotten” the message of the American people. Unfortunately by doing so really shows their contempt for us unless they follow up with tackling the real big problems afterwards.

Barnum was right, there is a sucker born every minute and Congress thinks we are the suckers. This little maneuver is nothing compared to what needs to really happen. It is just a symbolic move that does not solve a single thing.

Why do I say it’s a symbolic measure? Well it is quite simple. Most earmarks are tacked on to large spending bills with built in budgets. Bills like the annual appropriations bill. If you take out the money for a pet project from that bill it doesn’t save that money, it just gets spent somewhere else in the bill.

Earmarks themselves are not about increasing the budget or monies that get spent. They are about HOW that money gets divided up and spent. That is where the big mistake concerning earmarks reside. Congress regularly budgets the money. They ALWAYS overestimate the budgets for the appropriation of funds. Then they divide the funds up and use them all. They make no attempt to “save” anything.

To get the earmarks argument to actually save money, one would have to get Congress to change the way they build their budget. They would need to get Congress to ONLY budget the money necessary to accomplish a certain task. For instance, if the military costs are $20 billion for the year, they should ONLY budget $20 billion instead of $30 billion and then add on $10 billion in ear marks to use up the extra money they budgeted.

By rearranging the way the budgets are created Congress can then eliminate earmarks and actually save money. Until then, anything they do is noting more then a plot to let the citizens think they got the message yet, continue business as usual. If we want the problem solved we will need to be vigilant about what is being done. Otherwise, Congress will just pull the wool over eyes again and again just as they have for the last two centuries.

It is time to wake up and see what is really going on. We need to stop sleeping when covers pulls the cover over our heads and tells us everything will be alright. The old “Trust me, I am from the government” does not work any more. Let them have an ear full and hold their feet to the fire on this. If we do not, we will never save this country.

Yours in Liberty

4 comments to Cutting Earmarks Do Not Save Money

  • JimW

    Well researched JimK. You are forgetting one little thing. A congress critter will vote for a BAD BILL if he puts in an earmark. It is not the money that earmarks represent that is the problem, it is the “logrolling” aspect of enacting BAD LAW. Eliminate earmarks not for the money saved, but for the BAD BILLS that would otherwise pass.

  • JimW,

    That point was addressed with the implication that if congress critters only budgeted what was necessary, no earmarks would get added….therefore…no vote for a bad bill would take place because of earmarks that were added….they would never get added thus eliminating the problem you noted.

    Will the reality actually take place, I don’t know. Guess we will have to wait an see what they do.

    I would encourage everyone to contact their congress critter and get them to vote on eliminating the earmarks. While it will not change the budget, it would be interesting to see if it eliminates the problem you noted or if them damn congress critters find another way around it to still vote for bad bills.

  • JimK,

    Nice way to write an article derived from a crucial contention I made in the article before. This article is right on.

  • Darren

    A better way to look at earmarks is that they are a Socialist mechanism to redistribute wealth from one portion of the population to another.

    When the Congress appropriates money for a specific project it has to conform to specific requirements and needs Executive approval. These spending bills MUST not have special funding for unique classes of people. Earmarks are the legal loop hole around this limitation and they simply amount to gross redistribution. Lets see them for what they are.