Earmark Accounting Leaves Two Thirds Of McCain Tax Proposal Unfunded

Our guest blogger is Scott Lilly, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Alright, so maybe a candidate for President of the United States doesn’t need to know the first thing about the Federal Budget. That’s a job for staff — right? But what if a candidate for President doesn’t know anything about the budget and can’t hire someone who does?

That appears to be the situation that John McCain is in, based on the background provided today by his “Director of Economic Policy” Douglas Holtz-Eakin told reporters recently:

We have $60 billion in discretionary spending that was sourced to earmarks.

Holtz-Eakin says that money could be used to fix the repeal the alternative minimum tax. The problem is that virtually no one can find even a third that much money in the annual spending bills in earmarks.


The most credible effort at earmark accounting in recent years was completed recently by the Taxpayers for Common Sense. They did an exhaustive review of the 2008 spending bills and reported $18.3 billion in earmarks. The White House Office of Management and Budget scrubbed the twelve 2008 appropriation bills and came up with only $16.9 billion. Where does McCain’s other $41.7 billion come from?

There is virtually no explanation. Did Congress spend money in other areas that McCain is counting but neither Taxpayers for Common Sense for the White House counts? That seems to be a hard argument to make. For 2008, the President’s request totals $932.8 billion (not counting the pending supplemental.) The Congressional Budget Office scores the action taken by the Congress on the 2008 appropriation bills at $932.8 billion — exactly the amount requested.

There were some areas that Congress spent more than the President requested and other areas where Congress spent less than the request. But McCain would find it difficult in most instances to object to the judgments made by Congress, for instance the $3.8 billion to improve the quality of health care for returning veterans which was included in the final Military Construction — Veterans bill but not contained in the President’s request.

It is even difficult to imagine that McCain would want to get rid of all of the earmarks. $1.2 billion of which was for better housing and facilities for servicemen and their families at military installations around the world.

The disturbing point here, however, is that even by the loose rules of budget discipline used in Washington in recent years this accounting is completely off the wall. Revenue cuts that are offset by phony spending reductions simply add to the deficit and the nation’s long term debt burden. Senator McCain needs to detail his figures in a manner similar to the materials provided by OMB and Taxpayers for Common Sense.