WASHINGTON—Congress imposed a moratorium on earmarks on itself in 2011, but for the seventh consecutive year, an anti-government-waste and -fraud nonprofit exposed on June 13 almost 300 new examples of the secret spending.
“The 2019 Congressional Pig Book reveals that Washington has the pork-barrel fever, and their only prescription is more earmarks,” Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) President Thomas Schatz said in a statement accompanying the public release of the compilation.
Earmarks are provisions in spending bills directing federal officials to spend tax dollars on a specific project, program, or contract, often at the benefit of a family member, former staff aide, or campaign donor to a senator or representative.
For decades, specific senators or representatives behind such earmarks were typically not identified publicly and the measures were added in bill reports from congressional conference committees.
In its summary of the latest Pig Book, CAGW said the 2019 edition “exposes 282 earmarks in Fiscal Year 2019, (a 21.6 percent increase from FY 2018), costing taxpayers $15.3 billion (a 4.1 percent increase from FY 2018).”
The $15.3 billion is the most since 2010, the year before the moratorium was enacted. The new earmarks are contained in appropriations bills.
Among the most expensive examples singled out by CAGW were these:
- “$1.8 billion for seven earmarks for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, including eight additional planes for the Air Force, six for the Navy, and two for the Marine Corps. In development for nearly 18 years and eight years behind schedule, total acquisition costs now exceed $428 billion, nearly double the initial estimate of $233 billion … the F-35’s lifetime operation and maintenance costs will total approximately $1.2 trillion, the most expensive weapon system in U.S. history.”
- “$65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. For the third consecutive year, President Donald Trump’s budget recommended eliminating its funding because it favors state, local, and/or industry interests, and are ‘not optimally targeted … favor certain species and geographic areas over others,’ and do not direct funds to programs and projects that have “the greatest need or potential benefit.’”
- “$13.8 million for wild horse and burro management (largest amount ever). Since FY 1992, legislators have added $18 million in earmarks for wild horse and burro management.”
- “$12 million for the aquatic plant control program (largest amount ever). Since FY 1994, aquatic plant control projects have been earmarked by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).”
- “$9 million for a fruit fly quarantine program. After a 10-year furlough, members of Congress have returned to the trenches in the war against fruit flies. Since FY 1991, members of Congress have added 12 earmarks costing $39.2 million for fruit fly research, eradication, or quarantine.”
- “$863,000 for a brown tree snake eradication program. The snakes are native to northern Australia, Indonesia, and many of the islands in Melanesia, but were likely introduced in Guam by the U.S. military following World War II.”
The 2011 earmark moratorium was adopted after the Tea Party revolt in the 2010 congressional elections returned Republicans to a majority in the House of Representatives, with a promise to end earmarks.
For several years prior to the 2010 election, there was a long succession of reports of earmarks, such as Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” a $320 million project to connect an island with about 50 permanent residents to the city of Ketchikan on the mainland.
Beginning with the 110th Congress in 2007, a newly elected Democratic majority in the House adopted a rule requiring disclosure of earmark sponsors.
The earmark problem is likely to get worse because, according to the Pig Book, “prominent legislators from both parties have called for an end to the earmark moratorium, including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and committee members Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); House appropriators Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho); and leaders such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).”
The Pig Book also noted that House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) in a February letter “announced a delay in the fight to reinstitute an open system of earmarking, stating, ‘unfortunately, there is currently not the necessary bipartisan, bicameral agreement to allow the Appropriations Committee to earmark.’”
“‘For that reason, I do not expect fiscal year 2020 House spending bills to include congressionally directed spending.’ The relatively widespread support in Congress for a return of earmarks all but guarantees that this issue will be revisited.”
Schatz said: “Pushing pork does not drain the swamp, and it won’t restore integrity to Washington. One of the best ways to clean up Washington’s addiction to waste is for Congress to enact a permanent, statutory ban on earmarks.”