The Wall Street Journal has a lead editorial arguing that one of the big tests of whether Republicans are serious about limited government is whether they embrace a ban on earmarks. Earmarks only represent a small portion of federal spending, the editors note, but they help grease the wheels of massive spending bills and are also of great symbolic importance. While I agree with this as far as it goes — and support a ban on earmarks — I also think that the overemphasis on earmarks has distracted attention from the much more important issue of how to deal with the entitlement spending mess. Republican candidates were able to run this year on vague promises of cutting wasteful spending. When pressed on ideas to combat the looming entitlement crisis, they’d often talk about how we needed to take on earmarks and pork barrel spending first. What I fear is that if the GOP eliminates earmarks, it will cite that as progress in reducing the debt when running for reelection, once again trying to deflect attention from entitlements. As I demonstrated with a pie chart recently, if you take entitlements and defense spending off the table, you’re only left with 17 percent of the budget from which to make cuts. Putting the primary focus on earmarks would be like a struggling family cutting back on eating out and seeing movies when even after doing all of that, they can’t begin to afford their mortgage and car payments.
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