McCain Loses Fight to Stem Earmarks

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Congress, McCain


In 2008, both major presidential candidates promised to curtail earmarks. The only one who has yet to blink on the issue lost his fight today to reign in the excesses of the new spending bill.

John McCain just can’t win.

The story:

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to preserve thousands of earmarks in a $410 billion spending bill on Tuesday, brushing aside Sen. John McCain’s claim that President Barack Obama and Congress are merely conducting business as usual in a time of economic hardship.

McCain’s attempt to strip out an estimated 8,500 earmarks failed on a vote of 63-32. The Arizona senator’s proposal also would have cut roughly $32 billion from the measure and kept spending at last year’s levels in several federal agencies.

Last year’s Republican presidential candidate said both he and Obama pledged during the campaign to “stop business as usual in Washington,” and he quoted the president as having said he would go line by line to make sure money was spent wisely.

McCain has a distinguished career battling earmarks and I’m glad he’s still fighting the good fight. I’ll hold off calling Obama an earmark hypocrite until after he’s had more time to impose his will. He did keep earmarks out of the stimulus bill (although he hardly reigned in the excess). Hopefully the continued anti-earmark actions by McCain and others will push Obama into keeping his promise on future spending bills.

We’ll see…

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 and is filed under Congress, McCain. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “McCain Loses Fight to Stem Earmarks”

  1. Simon Says:

    Alan, is it your theory that Obama is going to veto this spending bill, and if not , why delay calling him “an earmark hypocrite until after he’s had more time to impose his will”? The time for imposing his will is over in all but one sense: the bill isn’t going to fundamentally change, so the only question left is whether Obama will sign. We know the answer to that question, no?

  2. Imee Says:

    I refuse to call Obama an earmark hypocrite until I see it in actuality either by the end of his term or as you say “until after he’s had more time to impose his will” for this reason: People voted him into office, so whether they like him, his policies and his ideas or not, they put him there. Whether he fulfills his campaign promises is another story…and it isn’t 100% up to him since everyone else in his administration has to have a say at those policies and ideas at one point or another before being approved. People like to blame him because he’s the one on top, but truth of the matter is if people blame him, they should blame everyone in his administration and themselves.”Point one finger at someone and the four others point back at you.”

  3. Marcus Says:

    To be frank, the stimulus bill didn’t go far enough in spending as it should so 32 billion in extra spending doesn’t tweak me at all. A 9million dollar bike path provides construction jobs and builds infrastructure. As above I am glad that earmarks were kept out of the stimulus bill and that there’s at least some levels of accountability. Hopefully though, this is the last of the earmarks and I do hope McCain keeps up the fight.

  4. kranky kritter Says:

    You can’t pat Obama on the back for keeping earmarks out of the stimulus bill if they just show up another bill that gets passed. Unless one is innumerate. Segregating the pork simply isn’t especially helpful unless something about the segregation reduces the total amount.

    However, I am temperate enough to understand that Obama must both choose his battles and pay more heed to the politico-economic climate of March 2009 over September 2008. So I can’t agree with Simon’s insistence that failure to immediately oppose earmarks right now constitutes hypocrisy instead of caution and chip gathering. I also would not be at all surprised to see a substantial cut in this bill before it passes. I would not even be surprised if his democratic colleagues included things they were willing to later sacrifice in order for the stage production to include “Obama cuts earmark pork from bill” in act 2, scene 3.

    I think it would be useful to all of us if we had a thread where we talk about what pork earmarking is and whether it makes sense to reflexively oppose it. I don’t oppose allowing our elected officials to occasionally designate funds for a specific purpose. Especially if the alternative is to let state officials do whatever they want. I just want congress to be judicious. Far more judicious.

    So while I might be ok with some earmarks, like for a bridge or a school, I am not ok with, for example, a 5 million grant to build the Ted Kennedy government center next to the John F Kennedy Library. Especailly given that its location takes up both real estate and resources that would be MUCH better used for the next door commuter college UMass_Boston. UMB suffers from a crumbling infrastructure, skyrocketing student costs and weak funding even though it is the only remaining affordable option for students who are willing to live at home and commute while working their way through college as an alternative to accruing 6-figure debt to pay for the traditional college experience. In the current economic climate.

    In fact, now that I think about it, THAT is precisely the kind of sensible sacrifice that we all ought to be encouraging and supporting. There has been so much sturm and drag about skyrocketing college costs, but very little questioning of the high-cost, live-away, four-year model. Maybe that model is a luxury we can’t all afford. Full disclosure: I lived at home and commuted to UMass Boston, taking 6 years to earn my degree while working 30 hours a week and usually full time or close to it during the summer.

  5. Andrew MAcRae Says:

    Allan, I don’t know where you get your news, but the stimulus package was chocked full of earmarks. The trick is Congress is no longer calling them “earmarks” they are now granting money based on formulas to narrow federal moneys to specific targets. Pro Publica and Polifact are both great resources for digging deep. How Obama can stand in front of millions of Americans and say the stimulus package had no earmarks is astounding. Same shit, different party.

  6. Mike A. Says:

    The honorable McCain speaks……Remember The Keating 5?

  7. Agnostick Says:

    From last year’s first presidential debate…


    MCCAIN: “How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs.”

    LEHRER: “Spending freeze?”

    MCCAIN: “I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans national defense and several other vital issues.”


    A few days later… during presidential debate #2…

    McCain: “Well, thank you, Tom. Thank you, Belmont University. And Sen. Obama, it’s good to be with you at a town hall meeting.

    “And, Alan (ph), thank you for your question. You go to the heart of America’s worries tonight. Americans are angry, they’re upset, and they’re a little fearful. It’s our job to fix the problem.

    “Now, I have a plan to fix this problem and it has got to do with energy independence. We’ve got to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t want us very — like us very much. We have to keep Americans’ taxes low. All Americans’ taxes low. Let’s not raise taxes on anybody today.

    “We obviously have to stop this spending spree that’s going on in Washington. Do you know that we’ve laid a $10 trillion debt on these young Americans who are here with us tonight, $500 billion of it we owe to China?

    “We’ve got to have a package of reforms and it has got to lead to reform prosperity and peace in the world. And I think that this problem has become so severe, as you know, that we’re going to have to do something about home values.

    “You know that home values of retirees continues to decline and people are no longer able to afford their mortgage payments. As president of the United States, Alan, I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes — at the diminished value of those homes and let people be able to make those — be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.

    “Is it expensive? Yes. But we all know, my friends, until we stabilize home values in America, we’re never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy. And we’ve got to give some trust and confidence back to America.

    “I know how the do that, my friends. And it’s my proposal, it’s not Sen. Obama’s proposal, it’s not President Bush’s proposal. But I know how to get America working again, restore our economy and take care of working Americans. Thank you.”


    Later, during the same debate…


    McCain: “Well, Fiorra, I’m going to ask the American people to understand that there are some programs that we may have to eliminate.

    “I first proposed a long time ago that we would have to examine every agency and every bureaucracy of government. And we’re going to have to eliminate those that aren’t working.

    “I know a lot of them that aren’t working. One of them is in defense spending, because I’ve taken on some of the defense contractors. I saved the taxpayers $6.8 billion in a deal for an Air Force tanker that was done in a corrupt fashion.

    “I believe that we have to eliminate the earmarks. And sometimes those projects, not — not the overhead projector that Sen. Obama asked for, but some of them that are really good projects, will have — will have to be eliminated, as well.

    “And they’ll have to undergo the same scrutiny that all projects should in competition with others.

    “So we’re going to have to tell the American people that spending is going to have to be cut in America. And I recommend a spending freeze that — except for defense, Veterans Affairs, and some other vital programs, we’ll just have to have across-the-board freeze.

    “And some of those programs may not grow as much as we would like for them to, but we can establish priorities with full transparency, with full knowledge of the American people, and full consultation, not done behind closed doors and shoving earmarks in the middle of the night into programs that we don’t even — sometimes we don’t even know about until months later.”


    So… did we wanna freeze spending… or buy up billions in bad mortgages (and their associated credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations)?

    Does anyone know?

    Does Senator McCain even know?

    [email protected]

  8. Simon Says:

    Imee, why does “everyone else in [Obama's] administration ha[ve] to have a say at those policies and ideas at one point or another before being approved”? There isn’t even a sliver of Constitutional authority for an executive department officer to refuse to implement a legal policy of the President; neither their assent nor input is mandatory. If Obama prefers to hear their input before making a decision, that’s fine, but it doesn’t get him off the hook for the policy choices (or any delay in their being made).

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