WASHINGTON – Congressional earmarks for projects – such as funding for wood utilization research and a tri-state peanut research project – increased by 14 percent to $19.6 billion since last year,a new report reveals.
Citizens Against Government Waste,a watchdog group critical of pork-barrel spending,released a summary,called the Pig Book,of congressional earmarks at a news conference Tuesday. The group was accompanied by two of its “porcine pals,” Dudley and Winnie,who spent the morning chewing rice cakes and rolling a tiny pork barrel with their snouts in a meeting room at the National Press Club.
Tom Schatz,the group's president,said that taxpayer outrage has grown steadily in the past year because of Congress' approval of the $700 billion bank bailout,the $787 billion stimulus bill,the $110 billion Omnibus Appropriations Act and the $3.6 trillion budget.
“Despite repeated claims that earmarks have been reduced,the Pig Book belies that claim,” he said. “Sadly,the hard numbers from the 2009 appropriations bills tells a different story.”
The book reveals that more than $7.8 billion in earmarks are orphans – no member of Congress has admitted sponsoring them. Recent reforms require members of Congress to report earmarks. However nearly 40 percent of all earmarks lack sponsors' names.
Earmarks are amendments to spending bills that usually benefit specific projects and do not go through normal budget review.
“So not only is the amount of spending higher,but the lack of transparency has actually increased,” Schatz said. “At the same time,members of Congress are saying that the reforms they have instituted reveal a lot more about how they are spending money.”
Of the 221 unclaimed earmarks,more than half came from the Defense Appropriations Committee. One project spends $460 million to add an engine to the joint strike fighter plane,despite a 2-year-old Air Force report that that the additional engine is “not necessary and not affordable.”
“No wonder that all 435 representatives and 100 senators refused to be identified with this massive waste of tax dollars,” the book says.
The number of earmarks declined by 12.5 percent from 2008,but the total tax dollars to fund them increased by 14 percent – an increase that taxpayers will protest in a rally that is slated for Wednesday,said Andrew Langer,president of the Institute for Liberty and a rally organizer.
“This is an enormous amount of spending in less than 100 days time,and people are upset about that,” Langer said. “People want to know what this is about – it's about taxes,it's about spending and it's about government. This is government run amok. “
Alaska and Hawaii received more earmarks per person,$322.34 and $234.96 respectively. The national average is less than $30 per person. North Dakota,the District of Columbia and West Virginia were the next highest.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie,D-Hawaii,had the most earmarks for a House member in 2009,more than $256 million. Projects include $2.6 million for the conservation of the critically endangered monk seal,$500,000 for National History Day activities and $350,000 for invasive species management.
Forty-two House members reported no earmarks. They include House Minority Leader John Boehner,R-Ohio; Jeb Hensarling,R-Texas,and Patrick McHenry,R-N.C.
Sen. Thad Cochran,R- Miss.,reported more than $650 million for earmark projects such as research of dietary supplements,mosquito trapping and for the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference. He was the recipient of “The Super Thad Award,” for being the senator with the highest value in earmarks.
Five Senators reported no earmark spending: John McCain,R-Ariz.,who campaigned against them last year; Tom Coburn,R-Okla.; Mark Udall,D-Colo.; Claire McCaskil,D-Mo.; and Jim DeMint,R-S.C.
Langer said as many as 2,300 tea party rallies will take place in cities around the country,noting that Sacramento and Atlanta groups are expecting large turnouts. In Washington,the rallies will take place at two locations – the Treasury Department and Lafayette Park,across from the White House.
“We believe when government touches you,you ought to touch government,” he said. “So we are going to give them the Capitol switchboard number,the White House switchboard and ask them to call the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to voice their concerns about what government is doing.”
See video of PigFoot,Dudley and Winnie.