Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A change I wish I could believe in

The NYTimes reports:

We are going to ban all earmarks, the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review. We will create an economic recovery oversight board made up of key administration officials and independent advisers to identify problems early and make sure we're doing all that we can to solve it. We will put information about where money is being spent online so that the American people know exactly where their precious tax dollars are going and whether we are hitting our marks.

Sounds good, right? While I believe that there is a place in congressional spending for the expediency of earmarks, the process as it exists today is nothing more than a trough from which the corruptocrats feed themselves and their campaign donation sugar daddies. The total dollars improperly spent via the untraceable and often unjustifiable earmark process may ultimately be merely a blip on the astronomical dollars normally burned through by our spendaholic congress, but that's not the point. Even .0000001% of a trillion dollar budget is what, a million bucks? I'd take it, if I could.

Here's the problem, though. First of all, Obama has absolutely no authority to dictate policy and process to congress. None. And given the rapidly deteriorating relationship between him and Ms. Pelosi, herself being quite the crook herself, Obama will not be able to coerce or convince her to turn off the spigot. Things don't appear to be much better with Sen. Reid:

"I don't believe in the executive power trumping everything... I believe in our Constitution, three separate but equal branches of government. If Obama steps over the bounds, I will tell him. … I do not work for Barack Obama."

Sen. Reid is, of course, just as addicted to using other people's money for his self-aggrandizing and sinecure-protecting pet projects as any of the others, so Obama should not be expecting much help from him either.

But just for the sake of argument, let's assume that Obama is capable of everything he promises. I've already learned that when it comes to an Obama promise, it is beneficial to look at the fine print:

Let me repeat what I said about that ... We will ban all earmarks in the recovery package. And I describe earmarks as the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review. So what I'm saying is, we're not having earmarks in the recovery package, period.

Ah, there it is: this is a limited time offer! One bill only. Then, back to business as usual, the very business of organized and endemic corruption that got us where we are in the first place. Now don't get me wrong, I was livid over the earmarks that were included in both Bush's stimulus handout and the $700b "bailout" package. Emergency spending bills should be treated exactly as described: emergency spending only. They should not be used as a magic shopping cart for congressional pet projects.

But at the end of the day, even if Obama is able to deliver on this promise (and it would be the first time he has done so), it doesn't go far enough. Obama is promising to make hard decisions to cut spending:

We'll have to make tough choices, and we're going to have to break old habits. We're going to have to eliminate outmoded programs and make the ones that we do need work better.

Again, I heartily agree in principle, but I shudder at the thought of what Obama will define as outmoded programs. I'm willing to bet that our massive entitlement spending and income redistribution schemes will not be considered outmoded. No, I suspect that 'outmoded' programs will be things like military spending, infrastructure maintenance and repair, government services like air traffic control, and the few other remaining expenditures that are actually defined as legitimate government activities in the constitution.

What will remain, and more than likely grow even further, are the welfare programs (sorry, 'entitlement') that have redefined the purpose of taxation from "for the common welfare" to "for the welfare of the common." It seems a subtle distinction, but it is not. It is this fundamental shift in governmental purpose that will ultimately bankrupt us, and keeping earmarks out of a single spending package will do nothing to slow our inevitable decline.