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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

Think You Know John McCain?

His earmark obsession misses the mark

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Republican presidential nominee John McCain has had few consistent themes in his campaign outside of his staunch belief that he’s a “maverick,” even though he supported President Bush 90% of the time in 2007; his insistence that he’s always put “country first,” even though his vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, clearly was a gimmick intended to woo Hillary Clinton voters; and his obsession with earmarks, or lawmakers’ requests to spend money on specific programs.

When it comes to earmarks, there’s the recurring criticism about the $3 million spent on studying bear DNA in Montana. (Embarrassingly for McCain, he actually voted for it.)

McCain has also lashed out against the $398 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska earmarked by Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, which Palin supported until it became politically unpopular. (Palin also declined to return the funds to the federal coffers.)

Then there’s McCain’s new earmark obsession, a $3 million projector for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, which just happens to have been requested by McCain’s rival, Sen. Barack Obama. The projector was last upgraded in 1969, and, as reported by the Associated Press, the projector is not “an old-fashioned piece of office equipment that projects charts and text on a wall screen. In fact, the money was for an overhaul of the theater system that projects images of stars and planets for educational shows.”

McCain has made a big deal of railing against earmarks for years, claiming they’re “pork barrel” spending that blows a hole in the federal budget. On the campaign trail, McCain has argued that eliminating earmarks will save $100 billion right off the bat. But will it?

According to best estimates, recent earmarks account for about $16.9 billion to $18.3 billion yearly. That’s less than one percent of the federal budget.

One percent.

What’s more, while McCain likes to imply that earmarks are merely wasteful projects dreamed up by corrupt legislators to reward favorite constituent groups back at home, that isn’t always true. Rather, earmarks allocate money already in the budget to specific projects.

“Earmarks often simply tell agencies how to spend money that they are already getting,” asserted FactCheck.org. FactCheck also noted that McCain isn’t against all earmarks. His chief economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, says that some earmarks—such as aid to Egypt and Israel, money for defense spending and veterans—would continue in a McCain administration.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.