The Pig Book is Alive and Well | Council For Citizens Against Government Waste

The Pig Book is Alive and Well

The WasteWatcher

Congress is supposed to be on a no-pork diet in 2011. After Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) nonbinding one-year earmark moratorium passed in the Senate on November 16, 2010, and as more and more politicians began to speak publicly about the importance of ending pork-barrel spending, longtime earmark opponents like Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) began to think that the earmark era might finally be coming to a close. Those prospects seemed even rosier when President Obama announced that he would veto any bill containing earmarks during his 2011 State of the Union Address.

On February 2, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a devoted past porker himself, stated, “Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.” Soon thereafter, the Senate joined the House and agreed to an earmark moratorium for the 112th Congress.

But as winter gave way to spring, cracks began to emerge in what had seemed like a united anti-earmark front in Congress. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), among others, began hinting at ways they might slide pork into legislation, by exempting highway projects or submitting “programmatic requests” to committee chairs. At the end of May, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon managed to slip 111 legislative provisions worth $651.7 million into the fiscal year (FY) 2012 Department of Defense Authorization Act, 53 percent of which were similar to projects included as earmarks in CAGW’s 2010 Congressional Pig Book. At that point, it was clear that earmarks would remain a nuisance to taxpayers for the foreseeable future.

Summer is now in full swing, which means it is appropriations season, the time when CAGW combs through each of the coming year’s spending bills in search of earmarks. While earmark spending has dropped in the House and Senate appropriations bills, transparency has declined as well. Since 2007, legislators have been required to attach their names to the projects they requested, but earmarks have once again become completely anonymous. For FY 2008, Congress enacted rules to require certification letters for earmarks and for sponsors to take ownership of their projects. Earmarks were easy to locate and found at the beginning of each bill. From FY 2008-2010 there was a vast increase in earmark transparency.

Despite the moratorium, much of the progress made in earmark reform is being washed away. Legislators have begun to incorporate earmarks into the language of bills, which obscures the recipient as well as the requester of the earmark and makes the specifics of the spending item extremely difficult to identify. In essence, the present system strips away all transparency and accountability. House staffers dispute this, claiming that, under their current definition, none of the spending items in this year’s bills qualify as earmarks and that the moratorium remains intact.

However, six of the nine appropriations bills passed by the House and Senate thus far still contain earmarks by CAGW’s definition, and some also meet Congress’s standards, although in much lower amounts than in past years. In the House, the FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act contains $436 million for 11 earmarks, including $8,305,000 for the Army Corps of Engineers for a Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Dispersal Barrier. In addition, the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act contains seven earmarks worth $56,750,000, including $40 million for Boll Weevil eradication.  This represents a 96 percent decrease from the 192 projects in FY 2011 and a 61 percent decrease in cost from the FY 2011 amount of $143,890,000. 

Only one appropriations bill has been passed by the Senate thus far, the FY 2012 Military Construction Appropriations Bill. That bill contains $16.4 million for two earmarks: $10,000,000 for the Energy Conservation Investment Program, and $6,365,000 for the Whitelaw Wedge Building Addition at Fort Gordon in Georgia.

When it comes to earmark transparency, Congress has regressed. When it comes to a complete earmark moratorium, Congress has failed. CAGW had hoped that its two-decade fight against earmarks would render the practice lifeless (or at least cryogenically frozen), and while taxpayers may owe less for politically-motivated pet projects this year, the pork-barrel spending has gone underground, making it difficult to track or predict.

Regardless, CAGW will be watching, notifying taxpayers of the various misuses of their hard-earned money. Earmarks are not dead this year, and they will likely be back next spring. Fortunately, so will CAGW.

Christopher P. Ryan

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