BOISE - In a new TV commercial airing across the 1st Congressional District, GOP candidate Vaughn Ward says “the only way to stop reckless spending” by the federal government is to “end government bailouts and ban earmarks.”
The campaign ad, Ward’s second of the campaign and the first to hit the North Idaho airwaves in the race, is prompting some discussion, both about how Ward and others would approach congressional earmarks, and about whether ending earmarks and bailouts would really solve the federal budget problem.
“I think it’s a critical way and a very important way - whether it’s the only way I guess is debatable,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan balanced-budget group in Washington, D.C. “From our perspective, those are important areas to tackle, but there are other areas that we’re going to have to look at.”
The Concord Coalition, an influential bipartisan balanced-budget advocacy group based in Arlington, Va., takes a different tack. “Bailouts and earmarks are a very, very, very small part of the problem,” said Josh Gordon, policy director for the coalition. “The real federal budget problem is a long-term imbalance between spending and revenue.”
Gordon estimated that earmarks make up less than 1 percent of the federal budget, and said, “Most people agree that earmarks are directing spending that would otherwise happen to specific locations - it’s not that they’re additional spending.” However, he said, the practice does “tend to increase cynicism about why and how politicians make their decisions.”
Ward’s call in his ad to “ban earmarks” echoes “what Walt Minnick said successfully two years ago,” said Jim Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University, who noted that Minnick, currently Idaho’s 1st District congressman, followed that pledge up by refusing to propose any earmarks in Congress, even if it cost his state money.
Minnick is the only member of Idaho’s congressional delegation to take that stand. He’s also the only Democrat in the four-member delegation.
Ward said he, too, would refuse to propose earmarks under the current process, and called for various reforms to make the earmark process more transparent. “I am opposed to them until these kinds of reform measures happen,” he said.
State Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, Ward’s opponent in the GOP primary contest for a chance to challenge Minnick, said he opposes congressional earmarks, but he questioned whether Ward really does. “I think if there’s any special projects that need to go to a specific area, it should be voted on by itself,” Labrador said. “I like Walt Minnick’s position on this, actually, but I haven’t decided yet what my position would be. I’m opposed to them, and I believe I would oppose any earmarks, even if it’s still a part of the system.”
Ward said he believes Idahoans view earmarks as “a process that’s being abused.” He said, “By eliminating earmarks do you balance the budget? No, you don’t, but it’s part of the problem of what’s broken in Congress.”
Government bailouts, no matter how the term is defined, also are just a small part of the nation’s budget-balancing problem, said the Concord Coalition’s Gordon.
“It’s really still just a small percentage of our long-term problem. Somewhere over half a percent but less than 5 percent of the long-term problem is really related to just the last two years of short-term government responses to the economic crisis,” he said.
Ward’s ad comes out strongly against bailouts; it was filmed several weeks before a Boise newspaper reported that his wife works for the mortgage giant Fannie Mae, recipient of a large federal bailout. Ryan O’Barto, Ward’s campaign spokesman, said Ward opposes bailouts regardless. “He would vote against any bailouts in the future, even if it means his wife loses her job,” he said.
Gordon said the nation’s budget crisis will worsen when, in two to three decades, health care costs and an aging population push spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid far above revenues or economic growth. “We advocate some mixture of spending cuts and revenue increases to achieve stability in long-term debt, so that we’re not taking on more debt faster than economic growth,” he said.
“Current fiscal policy is unstable, and there are no easy ways out of this, such as cutting waste, fraud and abuse, eliminating earmarks or growing our way out of the problem,” Gordon said. “Those things aren’t going to get it done. There are no easy answers.”