Tuesday, April 14, 2009


We're talking about government spending in class this week.  One thing that is interesting to do is....actually look at the government budget.  You can download it from the White House website.

One thing that people rail at a lot is earmarks. John McCain is on fire with this recently.  Remember the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska?  Earmark.  So just how insidious are these possibly frivolous items?  Several watchdog groups put the total amount of earmarks at nearly $18 billion dollars.  That's a lot of money that is allegedly wasted (not every earmark is by definition a stupid use of money).

But relative to the entire government budget, earmarks are essentially a rounding error.  Total spending in the Obama administration 2009 budget is just under $4.0 trillion dollars.  So earmarks make up under one-half of one percent of the entire budget.  In comparison, defense spending is $666 billion, social security is $662 billion, and Medicare is $425 billion.  If you really want to address the size of government spending, you have to address these areas.  (Also an interesting comparison - all the other agencies of the government: Housing, Agriculture, Interior, Veterans, the FDA, the SEC, etc. etc... add up to a total of $613 billion).

Also, you have to realize that earmarks do not *add* money to the budget, they allocate money in the budget. If you removed all earmarks, the government spending would not fall - it would just leave $18 billion to the discretion of the agencies to spend.  If you want spending to fall, you have to actually, you know, cut spending.

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