Ponnuru on Earmark Reform

Keeping with my New Year’s resolution, let me say BRAVO to Ramesh Ponnuru for this:

But conservatives are almost certainly overestimating how much good “earmark reform” can do … Critics of Alaska’s “bridges to nowhere” have pointed out that it makes no sense for the Congress to fund such dubious projects at the expense of, say, fixing the levees in the Gulf coast. But merely eliminating the earmarks for those bridges didn’t solve that problem. Most federal highway funding is allotted to each state according to a complicated formula. Getting rid of the earmarks didn’t reduce federal spending, or even reduce Alaska’s allotment … Are there reforms short of outlawing earmarks that could be worthwhile? Sure. Requiring congressmen to disclose which projects they are responsible for funding is one. But don’t expect this reform to save a lot of money … Riedl thinks that an addiction to pork changes what those incumbents want. “Pork changes your entire approach to your job.” He estimates that adjusting for inflation, federal spending has gone up 29 percent since 1995 while federal spending on earmarks has gone up 164 percent. (They’re still, by his estimate, less than two percent of the budget.)

To be fair to Mr. Ponnuru, I’ve selected the portions of his op-ed that concede the cutting earmarks will have at best a very modest effect on overall spending. There is a lot more to his piece worth reading besides his recognition that reducing earmarks or even reducing pork will not solve the massive Federal budget problem by itself. I just hope the NRO Financial types pay attention to the fact that Mr. Ponnuru actually understands the simple arithmetic of the Federal budget.