Home Budget, Economy Did President Obama Fall into an “Earmarks” Trap?

Did President Obama Fall into an “Earmarks” Trap?


George Lakoff has a lot to say about Dems wrongly embracing the language of the so-called “New Centrism.” I urge you to read his latest article. Meanwhile, I think that one of the most perilous lines in the SOTU was the one announcing the President would veto any bill with “earmarks.” The problem with this statement is that the common discourse has elided the term “earmark” with “pork.”  The two are not the same thing, but rather “apples and oranges.”  An earkmark is simply planned spending on some particular priority. However earmarks might also be pork, but they are not necessarily so. I am not defending all pork.  But pork isn’t inherently evil either. More to the point, “earmarks” can be a budgeting device that facilitates planning.  I personally use them in our household budgeting.  And it allows a more careful and considered approach to our planning needs. But GOPhers (and now so-called centrists Dems–the really are corporatist, not centrist) conflated the two terms.  And it will be very difficult to set the record straight now.

Why do that (conflate the terms)?  Ideologue drown-government nihilists and also supporters of zero-based budgeting may both have different reasons.  But both want everything to be zeroed out (except, usually, the massively bloated defense budget)for each new budget, each entity of the government having to re-justify everything every time a budget is constructed. Agencies are thus in a permanent state of siege having to justify themselves over and over.  This subtracts from productivity and ultimately enables the claim that government agencies should be downsized, whether or not that would be good for America.

Disallowing earmarks ends the assumption that any entity or priority in government should be be included in any given budget.  Otherwise, technically, they would be represented by an earmark.

And so the president walked right into a trap.  And the trap gets even worse when you consider two things.  First, I saw a Congressman smile for the TV audience just as Obama made the earmarks statement.  Surely, the Congressman was thinking that the President had given the GOP a way to sink each and every Democratic bill.  All they have to do is load each bill with some pork and the bill dies.  Nothing gets done.  

Second,there’s a more Machiavellian  trick lurking behind the GOP focus on “earmarks.”  It (and some colluding Dems) want all that money from the Social Security trust fund not to be “earmarked.”  That way they can take it (steal it because it literally has been earned), spend it and refuse to pay any IOUs because, after all, there “are no earmarks.”  Hence no IOUs would be deemed by them “necessary.”  And because there are not, Violla! Nothing can be considered in ongoing trust for the people anymore.  

President Obama assured us that he would not cut or privatize Social Security, but he left open a loop-hole by which much mischief can be done.  He should walk back that “earmark” statement ASAP.

  • Charles Stanton

    I would argue with anyone the benefits of earmarks that are done openly and with full transparency.

    Worthy projects all over the Commonwealth have been done via earmarks.  

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    Is that the president overly controlling the legislative process may be unConstitutional.

  • kindler

    …is that it increases the power of the executive branch (i.e., “big guvmint”) over that of the legislative branch re: spending. Which makes sense — better to have a rational, central system to determine who gets, say, Army Corps projects rather than having 435 Congressmen directing wasteful water projects to their districts.  Personally, I think the Prez is on pretty solid ground here.