Earmarks

Big news of the day (via AP):

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, sounding weary of criticism over federal earmarks, defended Congress’ pet projects Wednesday as he signed an “imperfect” $410 billion measure with thousands of examples. But he said the spending does need tighter restraint and listed guidelines to do it. Obama, accused of hypocrisy by Republicans for embracing billions of dollars of earmarks in the legislation, said they can be useful and noted that he has promised to curb, not eliminate them.

In a 910 word article that uses the word “earmark” 24 times we are never told exactly what an earmark is, and the spending on earmarks is never placed in context–in terms of the total appropriations now or in the past.  Furthermore, even though this is a report on a spending bill, people who read this entire article will likely have almost no idea what the spending is about or why Congress is voting on it.  What a reporting train wreck.

For some insight on earmarks I’d recommend that people read Thomas Mann’s recent piece for the Brookings Institution. Earmarks, he says, constitute “less that 1% of the federal budget”.  Further

In most cases, they don’t add to federal expenditures but merely allow Congress to direct a small fraction of program funding that would otherwise be allocated by formula or grant competition.

Yes, the expenditure would “otherwise be allocated by formula or grant competition”.  That’s why they call it an earmark.  Congressmen earmark it.  Now, those earmarks might be wasteful or wonderful, depending on your point of view.  The entire appropriation might be wasteful or wonderful depending on your point of view, but if you read the news (see AP report above) you will almost certainly have no idea what the spending is on.  And you will almost certainly be led to believe that any earmark is an absolute, total waste of money.

Is this informing the public?  I think not.  Meanwhile, (and I guess I’m doing some reporting here) 98% of the spending in the bill Obama signed goes to keeping government operating through the current fiscal year.  This is something the previous administration should have addressed, but didn’t.  Further, virtually every economist on the planet thinks government should be engaged in spending–earmarked or not– to counter the massive economic contraction we are living through.

And the AP is reporting on the appropriateness of earmarks.  Unbelievable.

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Filed under brain dead media, economics

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