Earmarks Aren’t Even the Beginning
Our trouble isn’t the symbolism, it’s the substance.


Andrew C. McCarthy

In offering himself as the next speaker of the House after last Tuesday’s sea-change election, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed of about 800 words. The word “debt” is not one of them, nor does the concept appear. That’s a bit odd, no?

The debt is what the election was about: the growth-killing tab that runs up another $4 billion every day — even days when President Obama is not touring the Far East with 3,000 courtiers in his retinue. The debt, driven by unconstitutional and unsustainable federal intrusions into everything from how much carbon dioxide we emit to which light bulbs we use, is what in turn drives unemployment. The debt, coupled with government’s insatiable appetite for ever-greater control, is what impels the Obama campaign to tax every morsel of achievement, effort, and choice. As former Reagan official Peter Ferrara explains in President Obama’s Tax Piracy, a new pamphlet in Encounter’s Broadside series, production and employment have ground to a halt as a “natural result of the incentive effects” created by the swirl of confiscation and uncertainty.

Yet, Mr. Boehner is focused like a laser on . . . earmarks. They are, he says, “a symbol of a broken Washington.” Okay, but they are also less than one 1 percent of our unfathomable $3.8 trillion budget. The problem is not the symbols, it is the broken Washington.

It took the United States over 190 years from the start of constitutional governance to accumulate $1 trillion in debt. We now add a tril every nine months or so. At the start of World War II, our public debt stood at about $43 billion. That averaged out to $370 per American. On Election Day last week, with a population nearly three times as large, each American’s share had exploded to $44,370 — and counting. Accumulated public debt now hovers near $14 trillion, and that’s only if we use the farcically forgiving math by which Washington insulates itself from the accounting rigors it foists on the real world.

Americans in the private sector (i.e., members of the public who create the value on which the “public servants” feast) get prosecuted for fraud when they doctor the books, even if it is to shroud an imperceptible fraction of what Uncle Sam hides: tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities that push into the hundreds of thousands of dollars the true per capita burden we bear, as will our children and our children’s children. Just ask any Bernie, from Ebbers to Madoff: If you fail to heed the SEC’s disclosure regulations, you go to jail. And what of the regs for government disclosure, like the Freedom of Information Act? Strangely enough, the Treasury Department is currently looking to hire FOIA experts with experience in using “exemptions to withhold information from the public.”

But let’s pretend that the debt is really only $14 trillion. Two-thirds of that staggering sum has been run up since 1991, when Boehner was first elected to the House. About half of it has been added since 2006, when Mr. Boehner became GOP leader. Obviously, Democrats have been running the show in Congress throughout Boehner’s leadership years, and they’ve controlled both political branches for the last two. The congressman doesn’t come close to making the Most Wanted list when it comes to assessing blame for our sorry condition. But neither do earmarks.