Many politicians argue that earmarks don't cost the federal government very much. They say that if you take away earmarks, you are not lowering the cost of appropriations bills. They argue that you are merely transferring authority to fund waste from the legislative branch to the executive branch of the federal government. This argument is bunk.
The House passed last week a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government for this year that is pending on the Senate calendar. The Senate is trying to pass a secretly crafted $1.1 trillion Omnibus Spending bill as a complete substitute to the CR with about $8 billion in earmarks. According to Congressional Quarterly (subscription required) the Omnibus comes in at a price tag of "about $18 billion more" than the CR. Some Senate Republican Appropriators may vote for the Omnibus because of the home state earmarks.
The bottom line is that the $8 billion in earmarks are being used to purchase the support of just enough Republican Senators to pass the Omnibus. This will cost the taxpayer $18 billion in new spending. Next time somebody tells you that earmarks don't cost the taxpayer any money, you can point to the Omnibus of December 2010 as an example of $8 billion in earmarks buying $18 billion in new spending.