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When he announced May 12, 2008, that he was seeking the Libertarian Party nomination for president, former GOP Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia blasted his former party for running up the federal budget deficit during the last eight years.
Barr added that he wasn't about to give likely Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain any reprieve merely because the Arizona senator is a longtime opponent of so-called pork barrel spending. Opposition to earmarks – line items in the federal budget directed to local and state projects – while a positive, isn't enough, says Barr. Eliminating earmarks "would make barely a drop in the bucket with regard to the national debt, the deficit," he said after announcing his candidacy at the National Press Club in Washington.
As it turns out, Barr's right on the money about how little earmarks have contributed to expanding the national debt. While earmarking has become an easy focal point for fiscal conservatives concerned about the budget deficit, which is now more than $9-trillion in total, having added another $163-billion plus interest in 2007, it's only a small part of the problem.
According to an Office of Management and Budget tally, earmarks totaled $17-billion in fiscal 2007, only about 10 percent of the deficit that year. Admittedly, that's after earmarking dropped considerably following the congressional lobbying scandals of 2005 and 2006. But even at their peak in 2005, when earmarks hit $52-billion, according to the Congressional Research Service and the OMB, that was only 16 percent of that year's deficit of $318-billion.
Whether Barr's statement is true or not, then, depends on how you define "drop in the bucket." We'd say that Barr's pretty much correct, so we grade his statement Mostly True.
Washington Post, "For a Senate Foe of Pork Barrel Spending, Two Bridges Too Far," by Shailagh Murray, October 21, 2005
Congressional Research Service Memorandum, "Earmarks in Appropriations Acts," Jan. 26, 2006
Office of Management and Budget, Fiscal 2008 Budget Outlook
Congressional Budget Office, Historical budget tables
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