Congressional pork ‘making unwelcome comeback’

By Cheryl Chumley

The annual "Pig Book" was released, showing massive congressional spending waste.
The annual “Pig Book” was released, showing massive congressional spending waste.

Congress may have put a moratorium on earmarks in fiscal 2011, but the measure has obviously yet to take root: Between fiscal 2015 and 2016, the amount of pork barrel projects uncovered by Citizens Against Government Waste for its annual “Pig Book” has increased by 17 percent.

By the number, CAGW found 105 pork barrel projects in fiscal 2015. A year later, the group found 123.

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“The cost of earmarks in FY 2016 is $5.1 billion, an increase of 21.4 percent from the $4.2 billion in FY 2015,” the organization reported. “While the increase in cost over one year is disconcerting, the two-year rise of 88.9 percent over the $2.7 billion in FY 2014 is downright disturbing.”

In the just-released report, CAGW watchdogs found a $40 million upgrade to the M1 Abrams tank, despite the Pentagon’s objections; an $8 million earmark for the aquatic plant control program; a $56.6 million disbursement to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program; and a $5.9 allotment for the East-West Center in Hawaii to improve relations between Pacific and Asian nations.

The HIDTA program was initially intended for border states, but congressional members have been steadily tapping into it to expand funding for their states, located much further inland. Since fiscal 1997, CAGW found 30 earmarks from this fund that have cost taxpayers nearly $270 million, half of which were earmarks to 10 states – and only two of those states were located on the border.

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All the earmarks for fiscal 2016 were found in H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, CAGW reported.

And that presents a problem in itself, the group reported, saying the mass grouping in one huge bill makes it more difficult to discern earmarks.

“The earmark moratorium has not only failed to eliminate earmarks, but also has rendered the process patently less transparent,” the CAGW stated in a written release. “There are no names of legislators, no list or chart of earmarks, and limited information on where and how the money will be spent. Earmarks were scattered throughout the legislative and report language, requiring substantial detective work to unearth each project … [T]ransparency and accountability have regressed immeasurably.”

Some of the other earmarks highlighted by CAGW include $10 million for high energy cost grants, a program that mimics another already in place; $60 million for construction of research facilities for the National Institute of Standards and Technology; $1.15 billion for 28 different earmarks for health and disease research programs under the Department of Defense and its Defense Health Program; and $51 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an organization formed to “bring the 13 Appalachian states into the mainstream of the American economy,” the CAGW reported.

CAGW president Tom Schatz condemned the congressional expenditures.

“The 2016 ‘Pig Book’ shows that earmarks are making an unwelcome comeback in Washington,” he said in a written statement. “At a time when some members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol continue to call for a restoration of earmarks, other members have introduced legislation to make the earmark moratorium permanent. The 2016 ‘Pig Book’ shows once again that any earmark is a bad earmark. Taxpayers should deliver a loud and clear message that it is time for earmarks to be banned, once and for all.”

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