Monday, September 29, 2008

But Sir, It's Wafer Thin!

I realize that others have pointed out that McCain's obsession with earmarks, and his quest to "make them famous," doesn't make sense when you consider earmark spending in proportion to the federal budget as a whole. But after watching the debate on Friday, it has become increasingly clear that despite the dubious math, the main thrust of John McCain's economic policy seems to be that he will eliminate earmarks (other than ones that cover aid to Israel and other important programs) in order to "rein in spending" and fund his $300 billion tax cuts (aimed primarily at the wealthiest Americans).

Thus, it bears repeating that McCain's claims about the money to be saved by cutting earmark spending are either gallingly ignorant or deeply dishonest. Put simply: earmark spending ($18 billion) is a sliver of a tiny piece of a fraction of the federal budget - and McCain doesn't even want to eliminate them all. Taken at his word, his cuts to earmark spending would likely end up in the $10 billion range.

Blake Hounshell puts these numbers in context:

McCain seems not to understand that earmarks are just a tiny piece of the fiscal picture. As Barack Obama pointed out during the debate, earmarks represent just $18 billion out of a much larger pie. Compare that to the projected 2009 deficit (not counting the bailout) of roughly $500 billion. Or compare it to the total federal budget of about $3 trillion.

This pie chart provides a useful visual:


For a truer sense of the impact on the federal budget that McCain's bold new earmark cutting plan will have, you would have cut the red slice in the pie chart in half. Barely a blip on the fiscal radar.

So which is it: Is McCain simply clueless about budgetary matters? Or is he trying to deceive the public about the real impact of his fiscal policies - themselves a near carbon copy of Bush administration deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy while ignoring crucial priorities such as health care, repairing a crumbling infrastructure, funding the development of alternative energies and other global warming initiatives?

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