Iraq war, not earmarks, busting federal budget
Tomah Journal
April 17, 2008

Bridge to nowhere: $398 million.

Pre-emptive war to nowhere: $3 trillion.

Sometimes it's important to review where our federal tax dollars go and in what proportions. Conventional political spin would have us believe that spending on unnecessary earmarks is busting the budget while the war in Iraq need not enter our fiscal consciousness because it's funded with "supplementals" and therefore "off budget."

The numbers, of course, tell a different story. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Congress passed a grand total of $18 billion worth of earmarks in last year's budget, which is down considerably from $32 billion in 2004. While earmarks represent some of the most corrosive appropriations in the federal government, they now account for less than one percent of government spending -- about six weeks worth of pre-emptive war in Iraq.

Here is how the federal budget pie is sliced:

* Defense and security -- 22 percent.

* Social Security -- 21 percent.

* Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP -- 21 percent.

* Interest on the national debt -- 9 percent.

* Safety net programs (food stamps, housing assistance, disaster relief, etc.) -- 9 percent.

* Everything else (food safety inspectors, national parks, farm subsidies, education, earmarks, etc.) -- 18 percent.

The numbers are a challenge for likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who fashions himself as a "straight talker." McCain deserves considerable credit for his role in identifying earmarks and shaming their authors, but it's anything but straight talk to imply that earmarks play a substantial role in the federal government's budget problems. The real spending drivers are an outrageously expensive war in Iraq, which will cost $3 trillion by the time we patch up all the wounded, and an aging population that has every right to expect the same quality medical care that McCain himself now gets. Any suggestion that the budget can be balanced by eliminating earmarks is less than candid.

Congress and President Bush have run up big deficits, and only a tax increase or slashing spending on the big, popular programs or the Iraq War can balance the budget. That's the reality. Will we hear that kind of straight talk from John McCain?

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