The Biggest Political Turkey Of 2010

It’s that happy time of year again. The Holidays. Lots of festive stuff going around. Parties and eating and celebrating and eating. And eating. One of our favorite things to eat is turkey, especially tomorrow when we give thanks for one of the best meals of the season. Which brings to mind another type of turkey, though not one you can sink your teeth into. Rather, a bird that gives your brain something to chew on: choosing the biggest political turkey of 2010.

It’s been a great year for the domestic, non-flying political fowl so the choice could be difficult. And, with lame ducks roosting in D.C. right now, there’s a chance that a bigger turkey may debut before this year is out. Like pushing through a costly, strictly partisan bill before the new Congress convenes. If a turkey like that hatches, look for an epiblogue posted to this piece.

Political turkeys take many forms, politicians, legislation, government actions. In searching for the biggest one this holiday season, we can give thanks for the mid-term voter exit polls. They bestow the 2010 biggest turkey award to the gargantuan expansion of government financed by the largest negative spending spree in our history. The threat this combo poses to the American way of life far exceeds the damage inflicted by a single individual or bill.

Recognizing growing voter anger, Republicans have united against the use of Congressional earmarks as a token of their new commitment to reduce spending. Most Democrats have jumped on the ban wagon as well, although there are some stragglers, most notably Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.

While a plurality of public opinion favors the ban, there are a couple of contrary arguments, advanced primarily by politicians, both current and former. The first one claims that working to ban earmarks is a bigger waste of time than earmarks are of money. In 2010, they’ll only amount to 1% of the year’s deficit spending. According to former Senator Alan Simpson, Co-Chair of Obama’s Debt Commission, banning them would be as consequential as “sparrow belch”. Our elected representatives should spend their time actually reducing spending rather than empty grandstanding.

The other argument is advanced by the likes of Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. Congress needs to create the earmarks before the Administration’s bureaucrats get the chance, which they will if the money leaves Capital Hill undirected. This is the We Know Better argument, sometimes called the It Won’t Reduce Spending argument. Reid goes so far as to claim earmarking as his Constitutional duty. He also says earmarking is as old as our Country. His claims are erroneous, of course, but they do give the practice an aura of respectability, which seems the intent of his words.

The pro earmark arguments completely sidestep the point of a ban. It’s not the amount of earmark funding. It’s how the money is used. To be sure, some of it is spent on laudable projects. And, government departments routinely receive earmarks to supplement their budgets, part of the political gamesmanship that has developed around doling out tax dollars.

The truly detrimental earmark spending is for payoffs and to feather political nests. Like using them to purchase votes when the passage of Congressional legislation is iffy. Or, cramming goodies into bills that are sure to pass. Then there’s rewarding political patrons. In these cases, the negative impact of the earmarks is far greater than their monetary sum. Buying votes can get debt-deepening bills like Obamacare passed. Cramming earmarks into bills can increase their cost, like the Stimulus, by billions of dollars. That kind of “success” keeps the greed ball rolling, sucking up billions more as it goes along. Earmarks are a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

About the We Know Better thing, Congress does, after all, fund the Administrative bureaucracy. Misspent budgets can always be checked in future allocations.

For interested readers, there are websites where visitors can peruse databases of earmark spending over the past three years using several search criteria. The best known is probably the Taxpayers For Common Sense archive, but there are others.

The lofty purpose earmarks could have is completely undone by the impact of their detrimental use. May they end permanently and sooner rather than later.

See you on the left-side.