WASHINGTON – Flanked by Porky,a pink pig mascot,Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz.,and members of Congress rallied Wednesday behind an annual report that showed earmark spending has hit a seven-year low.
“We need to restore confidence in the American people in how we spend their taxpayer dollars,” he said at a news conference hosted by Citizens Against Government Waste.
The nonprofit organization that monitors earmark expenditures held the news conference to release its 2007 Congressional Pig Book Summary.
Since 1991,the report has totaled the number of items members of Congress have tacked on to appropriation bills to finance pet projects in their home states,called earmarks or pork-barrel spending.
Among the earmarks cited in the report is $1.2 billion for 20 F-22 fighter jets,which some say are out of date. Another earmark of $4 million will fund a rail line from North Pole,Alaska,to Delta Junction,82 miles away. The two towns' populations total about 3,000 people.
Group members handed out plastic pink snouts,paraded two live pigs around the Phoenix Park Hotel and had Porky,a person in a pig suit,pose for pictures.
Speakers included Rep. Jeff Flake,R-Ariz.,Sen. Jim DeMint,R-S.C.,and Tom Schatz,the organization's president.
Schatz said 2007's earmarks amounted to $29 billion,the lowest since 1999,because only the Defense and Homeland Security Appropriations Acts have passed.
The nine remaining appropriations bills are subject to a moratorium on earmarks that Congress approved this year.
“This is a path forged by Senator McCain,who for many years fought a lonely battle,” Schatz said.
McCain,who has formed an exploratory committee for the 2008 presidency,said overspending scandals have tarnished the public's view of Congress.
“I don't think the Republican Party lost the election because of the war in Iraq,” he said. “I think the Republican Party lost because of wasteful spending.”
The senator added that he didn't think one congressman and one lobbyist should cripple the entire party's reputation,citing the prosecutions of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham,R-Calif.,and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Cunningham was sentenced to eight years in prison for accepting more than $2 million in bribes from defense contractors,and Abramoff is serving five years and 10 months after pleading guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
The issue received added attention when President Bush asked Congress in his State of the Union address to stop using earmarks.
“So let us work together to reform the budget process – expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress – and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session,” he said in the January speech.
Responding to a reporter's question about what “President McCain” would do about earmarks,the senator replied,”I might have Porky over to the White House.”