Earmarks, pork barrel projects and logrolling

What we're going to do in this video is focus on the budget process in the us congress and just as a reminder that's one of the major functions of the

united states congress is to pass a budget for the executive branch to decide how much money the executive branch has to use to actually function and when

it comes to the budget the two most powerful committees are the appropriations committees in the house of representatives and in the senate they get to decide

how much money goes to various departments and programs in the federal government just for context let's get a broad view of what the federal budget

looks like and how it has changed over time so over here you see the trend from the early 80s all the way until projected a few years into the future at the time

of this video being created and you can see the absolute level of the federal budget has gone from a little under one trillion dollars and it is now approaching four

trillion dollars and this view of the breakdown of the various spending areas gives us a better sense of some trends as we mentioned in other videos there's a

significant chunk of mandatory spending mandatory spending err things that by law we have already obligated ourselves to and the big ones here are social

security and medicare and you can see that they have gone collectively from a little over twenty percent of the federal budget to now approaching almost

two-thirds of the federal budget now another chunk of this budget that we are obligated to pay is the net interest on our national debt we are borrowers as a

country and so we need to pay interest now everything else here you can consider to be discretionary that would be this national defense piece right here in

purple and then everything above this net interest piece and that's what the appropriations committees are going to decide on where to spend that money how much

does national defense get and how much do these other priorities for the and reget now generally speaking the amount of money allocated to various programs and various

departments how it is spent tends to be decided by the executive branch congress's job is to set the budget but that is not always the case congress can also set aside

portions of this budget for specific projects and the setting aside of parts of the budget for specific projects is known as earmarks and to make things

tangible here are some examples of earmarks from the highway bill that was passed in 2005 and as you can see it just lists a bunch of special projects

and this goes on for tens and sometimes hundreds of pages so here in california there's a project to construct safe access to streets for bicyclists and

pedestrians including crosswalks sidewalks and traffic calming measures in covina california $400,000 if we go down here to number 5 renovate and expand

national packard museum and adjacent historic packard facilities and that is almost three million dollars and so one thing that's probably crossing your mind

is hey this is a national highway bill and you have these little projects that seem very very very local and these earmarks here these set asides because

they feel sometimes wasteful or they're being used more as a political tool versus something that the federal government should actually worry about sometimes these

types of earmarks are referred to as pork barrel projects pork pork barrel projects and the reason why I introduced both words our earmarks are just a general

thing you can decide whether they're good or bad many of those earmarks that I listed even though they are for specific projects in specific locations they

seemed at least related to the highway bill but it would be very reasonable for some folks to say why is congress in the business of funding these specific

projects isn't their job to just set the budget to figure out how much the department of haitian gets and then let them as part of the executive branch decide

how to execute on improving the national highway system or our transportation system and so they would argue that that is pork that those are pork barrel projects that

those are government wastes now to get a sense of how significant earmarks and debatably pork barrel have been in the past we have this chart from citizens

against government waste and it shows earmark spending from 1991 to 2016 and you will immediately notice some things going from 1991 all the way until about 2006 you

have this steady upward trend in earmark spending all the way to the peak in 2006 of twenty nine billion dollars of earmarks but then something interesting

happens in 2011 it looks like it gets pretty close to zero and then it starts trending up from there but it's much lower than it was before and that's because as

we get into this period after 2006 earmark spending become a very big political issue some of these projects there was famously an earmark for a bridge to an

island in alaska that was going to cost several hundreds of millions of dollars it was later cancelled but it got a lot of press and a lot of

politicians started to make it their mission to do away with earmark spending some of these pork barrel projects were easy to get people worked up about and

said hey look this is a sign of government waste and so in the end of 2010 both the senate and the house of representatives passing resolutions to end earmark

spending although you can see that it still exists in some way at least according to the citizens against government waste now at first this seems very good

because twenty nine billion dollars on things like museums or maybe bridges that go to islands that very few people live on does not seem like a good idea it

seems like classic examples of government waste but it's also important to keep it in context remember the federal budget is approaching four trillion dollars so even in

2006 when the federal budget was a little under three trillion dollars this was only about 1% of the federal budget and so even though earmarks which often get

called pork barrel projects became a lightning rod for a lot of media attention because they seemed so wasteful in most years they represent well under 1% of

the federal budget and there are folks who would even argue that earmarks are a good thing by essentially allowing congress people to set aside an earmark for

something in their district it allows it it makes it easier for bills to get passed and it's only costing us less than 1% to do it it's only something that's

streamlining the political process other arguments they make is these earmarks aren't spending above and beyond the regular budget if they do not set aside this

money for these projects in these various districts or in these various states well then the executive branch is just going to decide on how to use that money and

ideally the executive branch would open these things up for bid these would be competitive processes but there's examples of the executive branch also

favoring certain regions or certain projects so the budget could arguably be the same whether or not there are those earmarks it's really a question of whether

it is congress that is deciding where these special projects go or whether it is the executive branch now another term that you might often hear with the

legislative process something that helps streamline it is the term log rolling now log rolling can apply to a lot of things not just in terms of where

you spend money log rolling is just the idea that let's say that I am congress person a and you are congress person b and I really like this bill right

over here I like bill number one and you like bill number two and I agree to support you if you agree to support me here I described log rolling where we support

each other's bills but we could even have log rolling where we support each other's parts of bills for example i'll support your transportation museum in

your state if you support my bicycle path in my state so i'll leave you there the big takeaways here are to appreciate the size of the budget where it gets spent

and some of the processes used to help pass that federal budget we also talked about earmarks which sometimes get called pork barrel projects and it's

interesting for you to think about after this video are they good or are they bad at first especially when you look at the media attention they seem clearly bad they

seem wasteful but when you think about that there are less than 1% of the budget and they might help streamline the passing of other important legislation

maybe making it even more bipartisan who knows some would argue that they might not be as bad as people first believed you decide

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