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Secret Earmarks Remain In Federal Budget

USA Today reported this week that billions in earmarks remain tucked into the funding measure that keeps the federal government running for the remainder of the fiscal year. Congress is debating right now how much to cut from the measure, yet these secret earmarks are not being openly discussed by members of Congress.

That’s unfortunate. Earmarks should be low hanging fruit for the cost-conscious legislator. They are special interests projects requested by individual members of Congress.

The USA Today story indicates that the House-passed short term funding measure fully funds $5 billion in existing earmarks. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has submitted legislation, in the form of an amendment to a “small business jobs bill,” to remove these projects.

According to USA Today, (Half of ‘earmark’ spending untouched in GOP bills,) $4.8 billion in earmarks are hidden in the defense, military construction and veterans affairs were left untouched by the Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government until April 8th:

House Republicans who crafted two short-term spending bills made $5.3 billion in cuts by going after some of Washington’s least popular spending: those congressional pet projects known as “earmarks.” Even so, a congressional report shows they left $4.8 billion in earmarks untouched — and critics of congressional pork say they should go after it. “Many in Congress promised taxpayers a full earmark moratorium, not a half moratorium,” says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an earmark opponent who requested the report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. “Protecting nearly $5 billion in earmarks from cuts sends the wrong message to taxpayers.”

Much of the information comes from a March 17 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). According to that report, “funding that was made available to accounts for earmarks in FY2010 would still be available to the agency for obligations in FY 2011.” Uh-oh. The CR that states that “all of the earmark disclosure lists from the FY 2010 appropriations ‘shall have no legal effect’ for FY2011.” This leads one to conclude that all of these apparent reductions in earmarks are fake spending cuts.

If the Congress were to delete the approximately $10 billion in earmarks from the FY2010 process, one could make an argument that those funds never would have been expended (because of the “no legal effect” language) and that the American people should not believe that $10 billion in the final number of cuts are real cuts to spending for this fiscal year.

Sen. Coburn’s legislation would eliminate all of these old earmarks and other special interest earmarks from the federal budget. One earmark Coburn would repeal is a tax credit for “Volumetric Ethanol.” That move alone would save $6 billion in taxpayer money.

Another Coburn legislative item would bar federal unemployment benefits to those earning over $1 million a year. The senator’s office says this amendment would save taxpayers $20 million:

According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, as many as 2,840 households who have reported an income of $1 million or more on their tax returns were paid a total of $18.6 million in unemployment benefits in 2008. This included more than 800 earning over $2 million and 17 with incomes exceeding $10 million.

Coburn also defunds earmarks in the FY 2010 defense appropriations bill. One example: a $20 million earmark for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Massachusetts. Elsewhere, highway and mass transit earmarks call for nearly $700 million in extra spending.

A major obstruction to Coburn’s efforts to pull the plug on earmarks is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Coburn has been offering this legislation as amendments to pending bills. Leader Reid has refused to let the Oklahoman call up any of his amendments to the small business jobs bill preventing a vote. The President also shares some blame for not calling for the CRs to eliminate all earmarks. Nor do House Republicans win any plaudits here; they have yet to pass a short term CR without earmark funding.

Crossposted at The Foundry.

Follow me on Twitter at @BrianHDarling

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