waste & pork

corporate welfare


Corporate welfare is a favorite whipping post of liberals and conservatives alike. Conservatives say the feds shouldn't give corporations a helping hand but should let them live or die by the hand of the free market. Liberals cry foul at what they see as preferential treatment for corporations over, say, poor families. But what exactly is corporate welfare? And is there any rhyme or reason to the handouts industry gets from "the man"?

deficits & debt


We hear about the deficit all the time - but how bad is it and what, for that matter, is a deficit? Some basics...


Deficit – the deficit is how much more the federal government spends in a given year than it raises in revenue (through taxes, mostly) (Note: we're just talking about the budget deficit here; for info on the trade deficit, see our trade page)

Surplus – a surplus is how much more the federal government raises in a given year than it spends (the opposite of a deficit – happens rarely)

Debt – the total accumulation of past deficits – or, how much we owe. There are two kinds of debt that people talk about:

line item veto

Issue in Brief

What’s up?

Once again, some lawmakers (led by Senator John McCain of Arizona) are calling for a line item veto for the president to help Congress police its spending habits.

Federal spending has been at an all time high in the last decade, and complaints about a ballooning deficit can be heard from left and right. With a declining economy and unemployment nearing double digits, the government is likely to have a hard time generating enough revenues for everything it wants/needs to pay for without going into even more debt: massive economic stimulus and bailout plans, healthcare, and two on-going wars. Proponents of the line item veto say it will help cut wasteful (pork barrel) spending and special interest projects from budget bills. However, many members of Congress oppose the law because it threatens to expand executive power.

issue guide: National Debt

The Skinny

see also background & facts, pro & con, links

What's up

Debt. We’re deep in it – and still digging. Some economists warn that our national debt is growing to dangerous levels and could end up hurting our economy in the short- and long-term. Others caution there’s no need for alarm; the debt is manageable and is even a necessary byproduct of policies designed to boost the economy in sluggish times.

lobby & earmark reform

Issue in Brief

After being hit hard by lobbyist scandals in '05, Congress was in the mood to wipe off the taint of corruption in 2006. But early whip-cracking efforts to clean up lobbyists' act and rein in the influence of corrupting "earmarks" eventually wilted into a few modest reforms - in bills that never got passed.

2007 revived lobby and earmark reform, starting off the year with a reform frenzy, with the House passing rules to out earmark sponsors and the Senate passing a bill to shine even more light on lobbyist activities. The House followed up on the Senate's bill, passing a similar bill in May - with the two chambers passing a final bill in early August.

Though some lawmakers grumbled the 2007 bill didn't go far enough and there's still some talk of creating an independent ethics panel, it looks like Congress is prettyu much finished with lobby and earmark reform for the near future.

budget reform

Issue in Brief

With the federal government running deficits for the past eight years - and for the forseeable future, fiscal conservatives on the left and right occasionally howl for stricter rules and checks to keep spending under control.

While 2006's Congress was gunning for a line-item veto and talked about setting up sunset rules and an efficiency panel, the 2007 Congress and current Obama administration are hot to pass pay/go rules. More on what all those reforms are about: