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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