THE "PORKBUSTERS" DODGE. Ramesh Ponnuru has an excellent critique of the "Porkbusters" crusade, noting that it "places an enormous amount of political energy in the service of trivial goals." As he points out, even the modest reductions in federal spending actually being claimed are largely illusory:

...most of the time, getting rid of earmarks saves taxpayers no money. A lot of people who cheer on the porkbusters are under the impression that cutting a dollar of earmarks will yield a dollar of budget savings. In most cases, however, "earmarks" are congressional directives that federal agencies spend some of their allotted money in a specified way. If the money isn't earmarked, the agency is free to spend it as it sees fit. Federal spending stays at exactly the same level. Those porkbusters who understand this point have, alas, not gone out of their way to dispel popular confusion.


The third limit on how much the porkbusters can achieve is that earmarks are a small part of the federal budget. Citizens Against Government Waste estimates that in 2006 pork projects cost $29 billion. That's serious money, of course. But it's also only 1.1 percent of the $2.7 trillion that the federal government spent in total. Most of the porkbusters are conservatives who want to reduce federal spending and eliminate unnecessary programs. Earmarks are a small part of that problem.

And, of course, this is the central purpose of the Porkbusters campaign: to make difficult choices magically disappear, especially where the Iraq War is concerned. It's a way for apologists to pretend that the enormously costly fiasco in Iraq doesn't require any sacrifices (whether it's tax cuts or other programs.) It's a dishonest dodge at bottom. People who think that the Iraq war is a good use of scarce resources should make clear the commensurate sacrifices they're willing to make, rather than hiding behind the transparent fiction that cutting "pork" can compensate.

--Scott Lemieux

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