House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) yesterday made one of those statements on the federal budget that is nonsensical both in substance and style. As reported by Steven Dennis in Roll Call, Boehner said “the GOP would ‘end earmarking as we know it’ if Republicans take the majority in November. Later in the day, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) said that earmarks were “emblematic of the culture of spending that has dominated Washington for far too long and must be reversed.”
Two things are obviously wrong with Boehner’s statement and Cantor’s translation of it.
First, as I’ve written a number of times before (here and here, for example), eliminating earmarks does not reduce spending, it merely shifts the responsibility for allocating how an appropriation is spent from Congress to the executive branch. Therefore, and completely contrary to what Boehner and Cantor obviously want everyone to believe, nothing that was said yesterday will have any impact at all on the amount the government spends.
(The irony here is unmistakable: The impact of what Boehner and Cantor are saying will be to transfer power from Congress to the White House at the precise time they could be leading the majority in the House of Representatives. Does anyone really think they will cede that power at the precise moment they get to exercise it?)
Second, Boehner didn’t actually say that the GOP would eliminate earmarks, but rather “earmarking as we know it” (emphasis is obviously mine). That’s one of those very politician-like statements that can be taken to mean anything and many different things at different times. It would have been a Sherman-like-no-doubt-about-it statement had Boehner simply said that the GOP would end earmarking…period. But as soon as he added the qualifier “as we know it,” Boehner provided himself with all the room he needed to back down later.
So…Boehner made a statement about earmarks that even if it were enforced wouldn’t cut spending and also gave himself plenty of room to back away from it later anyway.
In other words, there’s simply no reason to take what Boehner and Cantor said seriously and lots of reasons to be disappointed that they said it.