For the second year in a row, President Bush is on the warpath over "earmark spending" commonly known as "pork projects." These add-ons are frustrating and are a nice straw man for a grouchy executive. Yet how significant are they?
Earmark "pork" spending was about $17 billion in 2007; the federal budget deficit was $450 billion, give or take a billion here or there. Discretionary spending is budgeted money that the President negotiates into the budget and over which he (or perhaps she at some point in the future) has discretion. In 2000, federal discretionary spending was about $584 billion; by 2007, it was $1.05 trillion – George Bush, defender of small government has almost doubled his own personal corner of the budget, according to the Economic Report of the President. By contrast, Bill Clinton, that tax-and-spend liberal, entered office with discretionary spending at $531 billion; when he left it was $584 billion. That amounts to a 12.5% increase in 8 years compared with Bush's 90%+ increase in just 7.
Mr. Bush says he favors workers and small business, yet the combined budgets of Commerce, Labor and the Small Business Administration fell (in nominal terms) from $18.3 billion to $17.8 billion. Facing threat from climate change, wildfires, and rising energy prices, the combined spending on the Interior, Energy and the EPA went from $33.8 billion to $23.5 billion. Of course the 800 point elephant in the room is international discretionary spending, which is largely going to the war in Iraq. I've consistently believed that regardless of what you believe about the war in Iraq or the global war on terror, I've never thought that Iraq was the theater that gave us the most "Bang" for our federal buck – I still do, and the explosion in discretionary spending underscores that point. I'm not saying that I disagree with Mr. Bush (and other tax-cutting, big-spending republicans like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) in principle that smaller government is good. Rather, I'd say that I want conservatives to start being true to their rhetoric.