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New Pig Book: ground gained, lost in battle against federal earmarks

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The 2014 Congressional Pig Book, Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) annual review of pork-barrel spending, is out with this year’s analysis illustrating ground both gained and lost in the effort to eliminate the congressional practice of directing funds to specific projects known as earmarks.

In addition to no notable earmarks like past findings of “museums, theaters or opera houses; wood utilization or shrimp aquaculture research; or brown tree snake research,” CAGW found the number of earmarks decreased by 28.3 percent, from 152 in FY 2012 to 109 in FY 2014, while the cost declined by 18.2 percent, from $3.3 billion in FY 2012 to $2.7 billion FY 2014, the lowest amount since 1992.

What’s in a name?

But despite appearances of progress with the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill proclaimed free of earmarks, the 2014 book includes projects previously identified as earmarks. How projects were formerly earmarks, but aren’t now makes sense only in Washington D.C.

And as congressional rumblings suggest desires to end the earmark ban, taxpayers have good reason to closely watch as legislative gamesmanship continues.

Transparency, accountability on the decline?

CAGW also notes that while earmark numbers were down, the 2014 findings involved larger amounts of money as well as fewer details directly linking specific members of Congress to the specific requests.

A few identifiable, however, included:

The latest installment of CAGW’s 22-year exposé of pork-barrel spending includes $90 million to upgrade the M1 Abrams tank, which is opposed by the Pentagon; $15 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, secured by Senate Appropriations Committee member Patty Murray (D-Wash.); $5.9 million for the East-West Center, a “victory” for Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii); and $150,000 for the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, a pet project of Senate Appropriations Committee member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

“Members of Congress need to maintain the moratorium, or even better, ban earmarks entirely,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have asked all senators and representatives to sign a letter pledging to extend the moratorium. This effort is both vital and timely, since more and more of their colleagues appear to be ready to hop back on the pork-barrel bandwagon and renew their swinish ways. The 2015 Pig Book will be a lot fatter if the pork-barrel procurers once again purloin the taxpayers’ money for their parochial projects. Earmarking increases the risk of corruption and leads to the enactment of more costly legislation. Taxpayers should be raising their voices loud and clear that they continue to oppose earmarks.”

Projects listed in the Congressional Pig Book must meet at least one of CAGW’s seven criteria although most satisfy at least two:

  • Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
  • Not specifically authorized;
  • Not competitively awarded;
  • Not requested by the President;
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
  • Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
  • Serves only a local or special interest.

Click here for the 2014 Pig Book Summary which features a snapshot of each appropriation bill and its most notable pork-barrel projects.

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