Earmarks by any other name

Much is said by some in Congress that the “stimulus” bill (recently passed by the Senate with the assistance of two terribly mis-guided Republicans — Specter and Snowe) contains no earmarks. And they say it proudly and, seemingly, seriously. Check the following list in an article from CNN. Call it “pork” or “earmarks” or whatever appellation suits your fancy today, but the fact of the matter is that most of these items are blatantly wasteful and have nothing to do with getting our economy back on track.

Many of these are just ordinary budget items that probably would not pass in a routine budget debate. While those items might not be pure “pork” in the classic sense, you have to ask about the necessity. My comments are in bold.

On Monday, Congressional Republican leaders put out a list of what they call wasteful provisions in the Senate version of the nearly $900 billion stimulus bill that is being debated:

The Senate is currently debating the nearly $900 billion economic stimulus bill.

The Senate is currently debating the nearly $900 billion economic stimulus bill.

• $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.

• A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film. Like they need a tax break?

• $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program. To “save” the 6% of the country who couldn’t get the coupons squared away in the three years that this conversion has been underway. So they can watch soap operas?

• $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship). But wait … Gore’s global warming is melting all the ice!

• $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.

• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.

• $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.

• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD’s.

• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.

• $125 million for the Washington sewer system. Could not possibly be a big enough system at that meager price!

• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.

• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion. That’s a budget mistake … don’t bury it in a “stimulus” bill.

• $75 million for “smoking cessation activities.”

• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.

• $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.

• $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.

• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.

• $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.

• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into “green” buildings.

• $500 million for state and local fire stations.

• $650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.

• $1.2 billion for “youth activities,” including youth summer job programs.

• $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.

• $412 million for CDC buildings and property.

• $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.

• $160 million for “paid volunteers” at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

• $5.5 million for “energy efficiency initiatives” at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.

• $850 million for Amtrak.  To keep it going so it can lose more money?

• $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.

• $75 million to construct a “security training” facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.

• $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.

• $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.

From http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/02/gop.stimulus.worries/index.html (accessed 2/8/09)

A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon ….

Everett Dirksen
Image by gympumpkin via Flickr

” A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money” is a phrase attributed to Sen. Everett Dirksen (perhaps inaccurately) during floor debates on the federal budget in the early 50’s. So here we are, with right at a trillion obligated, another trillion being discussed, and yet a 3rd trillion being pondered in some Washington circles.

A trillion here, a trillion there, here a trillion there a trillion, and it’s already way past anybody’s definition of “real money.” That our congress can even discuss things of this magnitude, even if the pork was not in these handouts, is so far beyond sad as to, out of sheer necessity, be laughable. Me-thinks congress takes itself way too seriously as a body else they could not even entertain a discussion like what is going on.

Let’s look at the current “stimulus” package under consideration. Just what is in it, or can we even find out.? Here are some things I can find that are worth talking about.

Aid to states

For starters, it is a shell game. Sending federal aid to states would not save taxpayers a dime, because state taxpayers are also federal taxpayers. Hiking federal taxes to keep state taxes from rising is like running up your Visa card to keep the MasterCard balance from rising. Either way, you will pay. All that changes is where you send your payment. Heritage Foundation.

I have to agree for the most part. An argument is that the federal dollar can be injected into the stream of commerce faster than the states can do it, and without the balanced budget restraint. IF truly stimulating spending were the case, maybe that could help. But to just fulfill state wish lists is nuts. According to Heritage “Congress already sends $467 billion a year to state and local government–up 29 percent after inflation since 2000.”


  • $8 billion in loans for renewable energy power generation and transmission projects and $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research. greentechmedia — Those are very long-term projects, what is currently stimulating about that?
  • $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research$2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research. greentechmedia — That money may get to work right away, but how many jobs does it create? A few university and thinktank positions perhaps, very localized.
  • The House bill draft contained, and probably passed, a provision to turn renewable energy investment tax credits into direct payments from the federal government. greentechmedia — How much you ask? This piece from greentechmedia may provide a clue:

Such so-called “structured equity” deals represented about $5.5 billion in investment last year, he said. But this year could see only $2 billion to $4 billion available for such deals, given the massive losses investors are facing – and that’s for a solar industry that will likely require $10 billion to $12 billion in 2009 to keep up their rapid pace of growth, [Chris O’Brien, head of North America market development for Swiss solar equipment maker Oerlikon Solar,] said.

It’s sure starting to add up to real money.

Non-smoking plans

Now there’s an area that requires intervention by the federal government. According to CNNPolitics.com, the Senate plan contains $75 million for smoking cessation plans. CNNPolitics.com — On the CNNPolitics site there is a link to a video by Sen. Tom Harkin discussing how this will help the economy. Someone view that and get back to me, ok? Now I’m not a smoker, never have been, and I hate it. That’s a worthwhile effort, but is the timing right? Will this kind of expenditure really stimulate anything? It’ll take about the stimulation of the smokes for some people, so it won’t be helping them!

(more when I get time … this will grow ….)

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The stimulus that isn’t

The Wall Street Journal calls it the “40-year Wish List”. Michelle calls it the “Generational Theft Act”. Others have started calling it the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Debt Act. Whatever name one gives it, the least likely is stimulus. The WSJ calculates that no more than 12 cents on the dollar in the trillion-dollar whale goes to actual economic stimulus, and that the rest go to Democratic wish lists for electoral advantage:

via Hot Air » Blog Archive » The Democratic Porkfest Bill of 2009.

Pay attention folks. While the pork is not in the form of classic “earmarks” it’s still pork. It’s one thing that the so-called “stimulus” bill is laden with pork, it’s quite another that it’s being marketed so dishonestly. Let’s look at it.

First, you can hear congressmen defending the bill because “it contains no earmarks.”  While that may be true in a technical and literal sense, it begs the true question thereby misleading the public — and that’s dishonest. We expect better from our citizen representatives who go to Washington temporarily out of a sense of duty and public service (I wish!).

Second, if the WSJ estimate is even remotely correct that only 12 cents on the dollar goes to stimulus, and much of what you hear about the plan is for projects that go far into the future, then the bill can’t be said to be about stimulus at all! Its major premise as a short-term stimulus to the economy fails.

Lastly, President Obama is himself conflicted about what to do and why.  About a week ago he states that only government can get us out of recession. Now, in the last day, he speaks Reaganesquely of the importance of private enterprise and how only business, large and small, can pull us out.

What? Has the President had an epiphany? Or is there some sort of “gaming” going on here.

There are promises that we will have a website where we can track every dollar and know exactly where it’s spent. Why can’t we know about the proposal in advance and be able to let our representatives know our thoughts and feelings? No, this is not a democracy where all the citizens get to decide issues, but we should be able to give (and the representatives listen to) our opinions. In this representative republic, that’s how it works … in theory.

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