Congressional Republicans are once again embracing pork-barrel spending, more than doubling the amount spent on earmarks since the last fiscal year.
Citizens Against Government Waste, or CAGW, publishes “The Congressional Pig Book,” which chronicles spending on earmarks each year. According to the book, 232 earmarks are part of the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2018, a 42 percent increase from 2017. Those earmarks total $14.7 billion, a 116 percent jump from just a year ago.
For budget hawks, the news is especially depressing because House Republicans appear to be trying to restore earmarks after abolishing them in 2011.
“Yes, it more than doubled between 2017 and 2018, and there have been earmarks, according to CAGW’s definition, since the moratorium was adopted in 2011. Congress’ definition is not the same, so they keep claiming there are no earmarks. We disagree,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.
The $14.7 billion price tag barely reaches half the amount of the GOP’s worst example of pork-barrel spending, but Schatz says Republicans ought to remember that fallout from those earmarks.
“This is more than half of the record $29 billion in 2006, which not coincidentally was the year that Republicans lost the majority in the House. Then after they got it back (following the 2010 midterms), they got the moratorium,” said Schatz.
The book also lists the earmarks, including $65 million to protect salmon on the west coast. Schatz cited a wasteful project earmarked for the Pentagon.
“(There’s) $25 million in the defense bill for alternative energy research, up two-thirds from the $15 million in 2017. There’s now $315 million of earmarks for this purpose, even though the Energy and Water Development Act supplies billions for alternative energy research,” said Schatz.
He says between 2007-2014, the Pentagon purchased about two million gallons of alternative fuel at a cost of $58 million. In contrast, the Defense Department bought 32 billion gallons of petroleum at a price of $107 billion.
But should we really be making a big deal out of $14.7 billion in spending when the government spends several trillion dollars per year? Schatz says the whole process just invites corruption.
“The point of earmarks is that they’re corruptive, they’re inequitable, and they are costly. In the 111th Congress (2009-2011), names of members were included in the appropriations bills. The 81 Senate and House appropriators, that’s 15 percent of the whole Congress, had 51 percent of the earmarks and 61 percent of the money,” he said.
He also cited Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, for condemning earmarks through their work on the Article I Project.
“They said, ‘Earmarking is not an innocuous exercise of Congress’ constitutional power. It was the tool lobbyists and leadership used to compel members to vote for bills that their constituents and sometimes their conscience opposed. Bringing back earmarks would make Congress weaker, make federal power more centralized, less accountable and more corrupt,'” said Schatz, quoting Lee and Hensarling.
Schatz isn’t ready to say Republicans don’t mean it when they vow to be fiscally responsible. He says the allure of spending intoxicates both parties.
“It’s what we call Potomac Fever. It effects both parties. When they come here, they just see this as an opportunity to spend money. There are no adverse consequences for facing the taxpayers’ money, except perhaps for getting voted out of office. When 90-plus percent of incumbents get re-elected, that’s not so risky,” said Schatz.
So who is to blame for the GOP reverting back to form on earmarks? Schatz says much more responsibility lies with Congress than with President Trump. He says this year’s Bipartisan Budget Act was a big culprit.
“As happens in Washington, Republicans want more money for defense. Democrats wanted more money for everything else. So they said, ”OK, let’s just spend more on everything,’ and that’s what happened,” said Schatz.
He says that approach is how Congress piled up so much debt over the years.
“The answer here in Washington, D.C., is to address every problem with a program or more spending, not, ‘Let’s solve the problem and figure out how much it will cost,’ which is how the rest of the world operates,” said Schatz.