In America, It’s the Government That Says Oink Oink
Just days after House Democrats and Republicans began floating the idea of a one-year moratorium on earmarks, K Streeters seem convinced that there is no appetite in Congress to shut off the spigot for lawmakers’ pet projects.
As the March 19 deadline looms for House earmark requests, appropriations lobbyists say the power of the purse isn’t going anywhere because rank-and-file Members don’t want to give up an opportunity to bring back money to their districts before the midterm elections.
House Democrats were scheduled to huddle during a leadership meeting Tuesday evening. However, no movement on imposing an earmark moratorium had been made by press time.
“This comes up almost every year,” said Democrat Rich Gold, head of Holland & Knight’s government relations operation. “Something like 80 to 90 percent of the caucus is opposed to these” bans.
“If we’re having problems back home, it’s not over process or earmarks. It’s over substance,” Gold added.
Jim Dyer, head of Clark & Weinstock’s appropriations practice, agreed.
“It’s March and we don’t even know if there is going to be a budget resolution, and we’re having an academic exercise about whether or not the Congress giving up earmarking authority somehow could be a good thing,” Dyer said, indicating that Congress should be focused on the business at hand instead of hypothetical discussions on banning earmarks.
Even if the House moves to implement an earmark ban, it’s unlikely that the Senate would enact a similar policy, lobbyists say.
Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, commended U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for considering a one-year earmark ban and pledged to force a vote this week on a similar earmark ban in the U.S. Senate.
“Nancy Pelosi and I don’t agree on many things, but if she’s willing to take a stand for taxpayers, I’ll work with her to put an end to the earmark favor factory,” said Senator DeMint. “Americans have been disgusted by the backroom deals and earmark kickbacks used to ram through bad legislation and drive up our debt. Right now, earmark lobbyists are flooding Capitol Hill hoping to secure billions in taxpayer dollars for special interest projects. The Senate will have the opportunity this week to stand with Americans and put a stop to this wasteful spending. Our nation is drowning in debt that will be paid by our children and we’ll never stop Washington’s spending addiction unless members of both parties take bold action. We need to focus on balancing the budget, not pork barrel spending that has wasted money on bridges to nowhere, teapot museums, and monuments to politicians.”
Many in Congress defend their constitutional right to allocate federal dollars — often inserted into legislation at the discretion of a single lawmaker, in what amounts to the issuance of a no-bid contract — but critics say the practice rewards lawmakers who have influence because of their seniority on appropriations panels.
After a series of scandals involving earmarks, Congress passed rules requiring lawmakers to post every earmark they are seeking on their congressional Web sites each spring. Obama, who sought earmarks in his first two years in the Senate but later disavowed them, has asked Congress to post all earmark requests on one easy-to-search Web site.
In past years, bipartisan support for earmarks was strong, with the majority party traditionally receiving 55 to 60 percent of the total dollar value — but Republicans have become increasingly critical of the process. Dozens of House Republicans — including Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) — now refuse to seek them, and Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has offered legislation to provide a presidential line-item veto to torpedo items deemed wasteful.
The top earmarkers in both the House and Senate are Republicans, even after the GOP has spent much of the past year making fiscal restraint and runaway government spending the centerpiece of its political message.
Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) — both atop defense spending panels — led their respective bodies in securing earmarks, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Young, the ranking member on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, helped secure 63 earmarks worth $128 million. Cochran, his counterpart in the Senate, had his hand in 242 earmarks worth nearly $498 million. In the House, Young was followed by Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) with $121 million, Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) with $116 million and Jim Moran (D-Va.) with $107 million. After Cochran, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was No. 2 in earmarks with $392 million, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) received $368 million in earmarks and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) grabbed $292 million for his home state.
Democrats changed earmarking rules when they took control of Congress after the 2006 election, making earmark requests part of the public record. And in appropriations bills, lawmakers were forced to put their names next to their projects in the bill.
But the move hasn’t dramatically curtailed the number of earmarks. Congress spent $16 billion on pork-barrel spending in fiscal 2010 spending bills — a slight increase over fiscal 2009, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Hawaii — represented by Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) — had the most earmarks per capita: $412 million for its nearly 1.3 million citizens. Wyoming had the least per capita and overall — $5.76 million.
Here are places you can check up on the earmarks being granted or put forth:
On Dec. 3, 2009, a new database of Recovery Act data was released on FedSpending.org. Available under the “Recovery” tab, this database allows searching over 160,000 reports from recipients of almost $159 billion in Recovery Act contracts, grants, and loans awarded between Feb. 17 and Sept. 30.
On Oct. 21, 2009, FedSpending.org was updated with new federal data, which provides site users with full spending data for federal contracts through part of the first three quarters of FY 2009 and federal assistance data for the first two quarters of FY 2008. The FedSpending.org database now contains over $21 trillion in federal spending dating back to FY 2000.
Taxpayers for Common Sense is an independent and non-partisan voice for taxpayers working to increase transparency and expose and eliminate wasteful and corrupt subsidies, earmarks, and corporate welfare.
On this page, click on the name of a congressional member to see whether that congressional member has received financial support from the interests for which he or she has sought federal earmarks.
Don’t forget there are many, many fantastic watchdog tools to track your politicians, radical groups, and others imposing influence on your tax dollars and your liberties at www.WatchdogCentral.org