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This little piggy

John McCain decries the system of government spending known as earmarks. He squawks so much about that and pork-barrel politics in general that you’d think it was the main culprit behind the increase in government spending in recent years.

Back in April he said, “I can eliminate $100 billion of wasteful and earmark spending immediately – $35 billion in big spending bills in the last two years, and another $65 billion that has already been made a permanent part of the budget.”

He’d better hope there’s that much pork, because he hasn’t really specified what other ways he would cut government spending, as he said he would do at the Republican convention. But, alas, the other white meat isn’t in such great abundance. Porcine spending is $16.9 billion for 2008, according to the Office for Management and the Budget. You can put lipstick on it, but it’s still barely more than 1 percent of the federal budget.

So, what about the other 99 percent? In a column for the Wall Street Journal, McCain broke out the old saw about going through the budget line by line to get rid of wasteful spending. If Uncle Sam had a dime for every time he’s heard that line, he could slash the $407 billion budget deficit. McCain’s been in Congress for 26 years; you’d think he’d know what non-pork spending offends him by now.

Makin’ bacon. We do know some of the earmarks that irritate McCain, because he keeps a list. Oddly, the $10 million he requested for the William Rehnquist Center to commemorate the former chief justice and fellow Arizonan is not on the list. But some of Gov. Sarah Palin’s projects are, according to the Los Angeles Times. While she said “no thanks” (not really) to federal funds (she kept the money) for The Bridge to Nowhere, she said “more please” for a public transit center and an agricultural processing facility, when she was mayor of Wasilla.

If there is an important distinction in the spending McCain loathes and likes, it’s lost on me. I’m pretty sure Spokane County would jump at federal money for public transit. Light rail, anybody? That’s how it got built in Portland. The YMCA and the north-south freeway are recent beneficiaries of earmarks for Spokane. Are those projects less worthy than a shrine to a chief justice?

The big slabs. The main drivers of government spending in the past decade have been Medicare, Social Security, defense spending and the supplemental bills to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If politicians aren’t talking about controlling costs in these areas, then they can’t be taken seriously as budget hawks.

None of the presidential candidates wants to cut these costs. If anything, they want to increase them. Yet the public is concerned about chronic unbalanced budgets. In 2007, interest on the national debt cost nearly $244 billion, or 15 times the amount of all earmarks combined.

Where’s the squealing about that?

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks, who can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.


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