Palinomics Not Great On Earmarks, Windfall Taxes. Not That It Really Matters.

By now we’re all pretty much used to the spiel; Team McCain/Palin are anti-earmark crusaders.  This myth continues to be exactly that, though; one huge honking lie of a myth.

Michael Kinsley for Time and CNN has a pretty exhaustive piece that details that while Palin is being sold as the champion against pork barrel spending, her record shows her to be anything but.  Indeed, her now storied career as first Mayor and then Governor shows a politician who has seen that her fellow Alaskans receive more federal dollars than any other state.

It’s an interesting story that needs to be read in full, but the general gist is that this woman who supposedly fights against wasteful spending has actually reaped large sums from the federal government.

The funny thing, though, is that this whole pork barrel spending thing is itself a joke, and the joke is on us.  Brendan Nyhan, at the RCP Cross Tabs blog (where occasionally you can find entries from yours truly as well), highlights exactly why the anti-earmarks crusade is a big misdirection by the McCain campaign:

Here’s what’s missing: the reason earmarks aren’t a critical problem is that they are a tiny percentage of total federal spending.

For instance, estimates from watchdog groups of total earmark spending in fiscal 2008 range from $16-18 billion. Current estimated outlays for the federal government in fiscal 2008 are $2.9 trillion (PDF). That’s less than one percent.

To put it another way, the current projected deficit is roughly $400 billion. Even if John McCain got rid of every earmark (an impossible task), it would only make a small contribution to deficit reduction. (See Factcheck.org’s takedown of McCain’s exaggerated claims of how much it can save by reducing earmarks.)

Shorter: all the teeth gnashing over pork is borderline ridiculous if you’re trying to take fiscal discipline seriously.  Yes, it’s true that there’s a lot of wasteful spending going on, but on the list of priorities that need to be taken care of in order to get this country’s economy on the right track, earmarks are somewhere in the vicinity of the cellar, but once you get there, you might want to bring a shovel just in case.

As Nyhan makes clear, pork barrel projects account for less than a single percent of the drag on the federal budget.  So once McCain gets rid of them, what is he going to do about the other ninety-nine percent?

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