One Cheer for Obama’s Auto Policy


March 30, 2009 1:22 PM

By Phil Kerpen
Policy Director, Americans for Prosperity

Unfortunately, Obama gets only one cheer because instead of proceeding to a bankruptcy or a bankruptcy-like proceeding where a real restructuring can be imposed in an orderly, legal fashion, the federal government is giving another round of TARP funds . . . in the hopes that somehow they can square the circle and restructure without a bankruptcy.

Read the rest at Fox Forum.

Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Drives the Earmark Problem


March 17th, 2009 8:57 AM Eastern

By Phil Kerpen and Jonathan Martin

President Obama recently announced his earmark reform plan (on the same day he signed a massive earmark-stuffed omnibus sending bill) by saying: “The awarding of earmarks to private companies is the single most corrupting element of this practice, as witnessed by some of the indictments and convictions that we've already seen.” Apparently, in Obama’s mind, private companies are inherently suspect, while government entities, funded with tax dollars, are inherently virtuous. It’s an upside-down view of the world that flies in the face of the real facts about earmark abuse, and a sorry excuse for ignoring his earmark reform promise and signing the pork-laden $410 billion omnibus bill.

Obama explained that, “Private companies differ from the public entities that Americans rely on every day –- schools, and police stations, and fire departments." What he failed to mention however, is the process by which these “public entities” receive their piece of the federal pork pie. It’s called taxpayer-funded lobbying, and it’s the practice of state and local governments, universities, and other public authorities to hire Washington-insider lobbyists to raid the U.S. treasury and ensure more earmarks flow their way. Tougher standards on earmarks for private entities let the real driver of government growth—lobbyists who use our own tax dollars to lobby for higher taxes and spending—off the hook.

The process occurs daily in institutions all over the country that receive tax dollars from the cities and states in which they’re located. Take for example, little old North Dakota State University—this week’s NCAA tournament darling. With a mere 13,000 students, ND State spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2007 to pay a lobbying firm to ensure passage of various bills virtually ensuring cash flow back to the publicly funded school. By comparing the roughly $160,000 (reportedly) paid to the lobbying firm Lee & Smith, to the $28.2 million received by way of the passed legislation, North Dakota State made a return of over 17,000%.

Great deal if you can get it. The problem is that when thousands of taxpayer-funded lobbying entities around the country get the same idea, it contributes to a complete breakdown of fiscal discipline at the federal level, and a spending system driven by lobbying influence instead of genuine national priorities. In a 2008 policy paper, Americans for Prosperity Foundation examined the scope of the problem.

Essentially our tax dollars are used to pay lobbyists to go to Congress and ask for more tax dollars taken from across the country. The coffers of universities and other publicly funded organizations are stuffed every year through the process, and there’s no sign of the process slowing down in the immediate future.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that in 2008, there were 2,300 earmarks for 920 institutions across the country. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that in 2008, transportation and water authorities spent a combined $16 million on lobbying elected officials. In today’s trillion-dollar spending frenzy that may not seem like a huge amount, but when all types of wasteful earmarks are funded it’s hard to get anyone to take any kind of spending discipline seriously.

Chuck Schumer recently noted that, the “chattering classes” are the only people concerned with “little porky amendments.” The effect of pork projects on the culture of wasteful spending in Washington is hardly little, however, and thousands of them are burdening taxpayers that will never receive one iota of benefit from them.

The most egregious examples of pork-barrel waste are earmarks for government entities—contrary to Obama’s claim that the real problem is on the private side. In the omnibus bill, we all heard about the $1.8 million for Swine Odor Research—that was at Iowa State University. We heard about Schumer’s Woody Biomass project—that was at the State University of New York. There was the Catfish Genomics research at Auburn. Sugarbeet Research at the Michigan State University. And of course there’s the Totally Teen Zone run by the City of Albany, Georgia.

Earmarks completely bypass state and federal agencies normally responsible for conducting competitive bidding and merit-based competition for funding. The abuse of the federal appropriations process by taxpayer-funded entities is no better than private institutions; it’s worse. Our own tax dollars are being used against our interests and without our permission. Until we take that problem head on, no earmark reform will stand a chance of succeeding.

Mr. Kerpen is director of policy and Mr. Martin is a policy analyst for Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Discussing Obama Earmarks Announcement

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Obama Vows Crackdown on Earmarks
March 11, 2009

CBNNews.com - President Obama laid out his ideas, Wednesday, on how to better remove earmarks from government spending bills.

The talks come on the same day he signed a $410 billion government spending bill criticized for having too many of those pet projects.

Read the rest of the story and see the video clip here.

Promise-Breaker-in-Chief Puts Pork Over Principle


March 11, 2009 11:48 AM

By Phil Kerpen
Policy Director, Americans for Prosperity

President Obama is set to, with one stroke of the pen today, break two of the big five promises I wrote about last week here in the FOX Forum. He’ll sign a notoriously pork-filled bill –the so-called “omnibus” or “porknibus” bill, stuffed with at least $7.7 billion of wasteful pork-barrel earmarks, including such vital national priorities as swine odor research in Iowa and Harry Reid’s beloved Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

Congress failed to show that it was serious about trying to forge a path back to fiscal discipline when it passed the bill on a 62-35 cloture vote.

Read the rest at Fox Forum.

A Defeat For Reid — But the Fight Is Far From Over on the Omnibus Bill


March 5th, 2009 9:48 PM Eastern

By Phil Kerpen
Policy Director, Americans for Prosperity

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor tonight and admitted he lost. He admitted that he didn’t have the 60 votes he needed to invoke cloture on the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill that was expected to pass tonight. He withdrew the cloture request instead of holding an embarrassing vote.

We don’t know exactly who opposed it because the vote didn’t take place, but we have a pretty good idea. Three Democrats–Evan Bayh, Russ Feingold, and Claire McCaskill–have looked at the bill’s pork-barrel-earmarks-as-usual and said enough’s enough. Based on the outcome tonight, there is a good chance that they backed up their public statements with a firm commitment to vote against the bill.

Read the rest at Fox Forum.

Omnibus Is Another Fiscal Moment of Truth


8:45PM UPDATE: Reid announces he falls 1 vote short! Victory for now. The debate goes on.

Omnibus Is Another Fiscal Moment of Truth
Phil Kerpen
March 5, 2009

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid is struggling to find the votes for the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill on the Senate floor tonight. That’s good news because even with the trillions being thrown around these days, $410 billion is a lot of money.

Three Democrats— Evan Bayh, Russ Feingold, and Claire McCaskill—have looked at the bill’s pork-barrel-earmarks-as-usual and said enough’s enough. If they stick to their word, the outcome will be in the hands of Republican members of the Senate Appropriations committee who stand to bring home to juiciest pieces of pork if the bill passes.

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