Sunday, April 18, 2010

Citizens Against Government Waste Point at Pork

Each year, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) releases its annual report of government pork barrel spending and this year is no exception. This week, the organization released its 2010 "Congressional Pig Book," which comes during the group's 20th anniversary. As in past issues, the focus is on spending that is out of control. The Pig Book exposes 9,129 earmarks that combined are worth $16.5 billion.

What, exactly, is an "earmark?" The simplest and most concise definition I have seen on the subject comes from FactCheck.org, which describes earmarks as "government funds that are allocated by a legislator for a particular pet project, often without proper review." Spending bills are often full of politically unpopular items and in order to get them passed, they include nasty little pet projects that are designed to make the larger bill more palpable to individual members of Congress in both Houses and parties. According to CAGW, slightly more than 15 percent of earmarks went to Republican members, the remainder went to the Democrats. Considering that the GOP pretends to be the only party with a moral high ground on this issue, this number is still too high.

Rhetorically, things are changing in government today. According to CAGW President Tom Schatz, "Recent actions in the House to stop funding for-profit earmarks and the House Republican Caucus' decision to not request earmarks, indicates that politicians from both parties recognize that taxpayers are enraged about the broken spending process in Washington. They have noticed that it is popular to posture as an anti-earmarker. Unfortunately, the 2010 Congressional Pig Book illustrates that most members of Congress still aren't willing to eliminate the practice and why meaningful reform is necessary."

I'm sure members of both parties are going to cite progress. According to CAGW's press release, "The number of projects declined by 10.2 percent, from 10,160 in fiscal year 2009 to 9,129 in fiscal year 2010, while the total tax dollars spent to fund them decreased by 15.5 percent, from $19.6 billion to $16.5 billion." This is partially attributed to the fact that reforms have been passed that make it mandatory for members of Congress to identify earmarks they requested and those who will benefit from them. In spite of these reforms, Congress still finds itself breaking its own rules in regards to being transparent. CAGW "uncovered 91 earmarks worth $6.5 billion that were funded" outside of the required rules. This was particularly noticeable in the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act, which included 35 anonymous earmarks worth $6 billion, which made up a breath taking 59 percent of the earmarked tax dollars.

The Pig Book Summary review some of the most outrageous examples, breaks down pork per capita by state, and presents the annual "Oinker Awards." All 9,129 projects are listed in a searchable database on CAGW's website www.cagw.org. Examples of pork in the 2010 Pig Book include:

  • $465,000,000 for the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter;
  • $5,000,000 for the Presidio Heritage Center in California;
  • $1,000,000 for Portsmouth Music Hall in New Hampshire;
  • $400,000 for the USA Swimming Foundation in New Jersey;
  • $300,000 for Carnegie Hall in New York City;
  • $250,000 for the Monroe County Farmer's Market in Kentucky;
  • $200,000 for the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia; and
  • $206,000 for wool research in Montana, Texas, and Wyoming.

CNN notes that the CAGW also provided several awards for members, based on their spending behavior.

The "Dunder-head Mifflin Award" (from the popular TV show, "The Office") -- Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, and Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pennsylvania, for "$200,000 for design and construction of a small business incubator and multipurpose center in Scranton, Pennsylvania."

There is also the "Thad the Impaler Award" -- Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, "for $490 million in pork, including $200,000 for the Washington National Opera for set design, installation and performing arts at libraries and schools, and $500,000 for the University of Southern Mississippi for cannabis eradication."

Then there is the "Hal Bent on Earmarking Award" -- Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Kentucky, "for $10 million for the National Institute for Hometown Security."

Other awards included the "Little Engine That Couldn't Award," the "Narcissist Award," the "Steak Through the Heart of Taxpayers Award," and the "Sapping the Taxpayers Award." My personal favorite is the "Jekyll and Hyde Award" -- Rep. Leonard Lance, R-New Jersey, received it for being a moving target on earmarks. "He first signed a no-earmark pledge, then received $21 million in earmarks, then supported the Republican earmark moratorium." I believe there are probably many other members that walk one thing and talk something entirely different. Review the list of other awards and find out if your member of Congress is a "winner" and how bad of a loser you are in the type of representation you have in Washington, DC.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is also host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN radio). Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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