The 2010 congressional moratorium on earmarks has apparently had a beneficial effect on pork barrel spending, with a dramatic decrease in their numbers and cost.
That good news, reported by Citizens Against Government Waste, cites a 98 percent decline in the number of earmarks in federal appropriations bills. And the cost of earmarks also has declined — though not quite so much. The CAGW reported $3.3 billion in earmark spending, down from $16.5 billion in 2010.
Of course, the earmark ban raises the question of why any would be listed by the public interest group in this year’s “Pig Book.”
An expectation that earmark reform would achieve its ultimate end assumes that congressmen have somehow lost their occupational inventiveness when it comes to extracting federal largesse for home state projects.
Indeed, the CAGW described the number and amount cited in the “Pig Book” as “quite conservative,” and cites a shift in budgeting methodology to mask pork barrel spending.
“The supposed lack of earmarks resulted in a completely opaque process,” the CAGW reported. “Since earmarks were deemed to be non-existent, there were no names of legislators, no information on where and why the money will be spent, and no list or chart of earmarks in the appropriations bills or reports.”
For example, it cited a $50 million Defense earmark allowing states to use National Guardsmen for drug enforcement. That allocation corresponded to nine earmarks totaling $22.9 million in a previous budget bill.
Aggregating earmarks apparently is being used to eliminate the appearance of pork barrel spending. And there are reports of congressmen achieving the same end by pressing federal agencies to request money for special projects, presumably in return for favorable budgetary review.
Even so, this year’s “Pig Book” is absent many of the gaudy earmarks of previous years — such as Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”
Still, it cited $255 million to upgrade the M1 Abrams tank, despite the Department of Defense’s recommendation to suspend the project.
CAGW reported that the allocation was spearheaded by Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., whose district benefits from the project. There have been 31 earmarks on behalf of the Abrams tank since 1994, according to the “Pig Book.”
Rep. Levin reportedly had the support of Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“While cooperation between Republicans and Democrats is a rare occurrence, pork remains the last bastion of bipartisan politics,” CAGW observed.
Also cited were ongoing flood control projects totalling $111 million in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill. Nevertheless, earmarks sharply declined in that bill, which traditionally has served as a veritable Christmas tree for home-state projects.
The “Pig Book” also cited allocations for drug interdiction being sent beyond the border states — possibly because of the failure to stop drugs on the border.
Earmarks were also listed for national parks sought by individual congressmen, as well as fish hatcheries, abstinence education, university research and alternative energy programs.
And Hawaii’s East-West Center, a pet project of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, received a $5.8 million allocation. The center has received 10 earmarks worth $104 million since 1997, according to the report.
Some of the allocations cited in the study are testament to the inventiveness of congressmen to gain home-state funding through a process that avoids public scrutiny or congressional debate.
As the “Pig Book” concludes, “An earmark by any other name, even during a moratorium, is still an earmark.”