Closing the Earmarks Favor Factory

Porkbusters Mark Tapscott provides an extensive report of a Congressional Research Service finding that President Bush could, by mere executive order, stop all earmark spending directed by committee report rather than actual legislation. It turns out that this is the vast majority of all pork barrel spending.

Of course, no evidence whatsoever has been provided in the last seven years that Bush has any particular objection to wasteful spending. Furthermore, if he suddenly developed an interest in fiscal responsibility the victory would be short-lived; Congress would simply go back to including their earmarks in impossible-to-veto legislation.

There’s some value, I suppose, in at least forcing the legislature to overspend in the manner required by the Constitution. But the problem isn’t wily politicians but rather constituents who want low taxes and low spending — except for spending which benefits them in some obvious way.

Given our institutional arrangements, where spending is controlled by a bicameral legislature consisting of 535 geographically allocated representatives, a huge federal budget will inevitably create carve-outs, logrolling, horse-trading, pork barreling, and all manner of other inefficiencies. It’s both a feature and a bug.

While shining the spotlight on these practices might stop some of the most egregious abuses — bridges to nowhere and so forth — closing the “favor factory” will require a change in mindset. Unfortunately, the demand for government programs is, by all indications, rising.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Congress, The Presidency, Uncategorized, US Constitution, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Keeping things in perspective if 100% of earmarks were removed from spending it would hardly make a dent in total federal government spending. While earmarks constitute an enormous amount of money by the standards of ordinary folks like you and me, as a proportion of the budget they’re small potatoes and looked at that way by Congress as a small price to keep the folks back home happy.

    The real Big Enchiladas of federal government spending are (in order) Social Security,debt service, and defense while Medicare is the fastest growing. Over the last 5 years there’s also been a big bump in “other” spending so that it constitutes a big section of the whole. It’s pretty hard to track down but most of the increase is Homeland Security.

    BTW, in terms of government spending i.e. not just federal government spending the biggest item is education.