The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Put a Fork In It: Why Taxpayers are Fed Up with Pork-Barrel Spending

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


For 16 years, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu fed her constituents powerful promises of pork – pork barrel spending that is. Fortunately for taxpayers, the results of the December 6, 2014 Senate run-off race stifled any of Landrieu’s future attempts at bringing home the bacon, and eliminated the dangerous implications that Landrieu’s fiscal negligence could have further imposed.

In a December 8, 2014 article featured on The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Max Ehrenfreund implied that this strategy, known as earmarking, the redirecting of funds to pet projects in order fulfill personal political interests, possibly prevented Landrieu from reclaiming her throne as voters may have soured on the practice of pork barrel spending – and rightfully so.

From fiscal year’s (FY) 2008 to 2010, the only years in which members of Congress were required to list the earmarks that they requested, an assessment completed by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) determined that Sen. Landrieu was responsible for 436 earmarks costing $794.5 million.

Since the enactment of the earmark moratorium of 2010, the practice of deal-making and back-door vote trading between members has drastically decreased from $16.5 billion in FY 2010 to $2.7 billion in FY 2014, though pork barrel spending is not entirely a thing of the past.

Extensive research revealed that 109 earmarks totaling $2.7 billion still managed to weasel their way into the twelve FY 2014 appropriations bills.  An initial CAGW evaluation of the 2015 "CRomnibus" appropriations bill, a combination of a continuing resolution (CR) and omnibus appropriations, produced similar findings: earmarks are still very much alive.  Unfortunately, only a few individual members can be directly linked to most funding requests, as the vast majority of the earmarked funds include fewer details than those prior to the moratorium.

Both government accountability and transparency have taken a punch to the gut, raising disturbing questions for the future, particularly since representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle continue to clamor for earmark revival by sullying the political process.

During a November 14, 2014 closed-door caucus meeting, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) proposed re-instituting earmarks for “state, locality, or a public utility or other public entity,” claiming the moratorium transfers too much power over spending decisions to the executive branch. While the proposal was ultimately dismissed, it surprisingly enjoyed considerable support from Republican lawmakers. In the past year, Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) along with Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) have also argued for a return to an earmarking system, albeit unsuccessfully.

Prior to the moratorium, earmarking led to corruption, including the incarceration of members and staff – mostly Republican – and led to an inequitable distribution of projects. Taxpayers seem to have the negative implications of pork barrel spending figured out, while earmark advocates have all but forgotten the days when Congress used earmarks to promote overblown spending and sell out the American people in order to remain in power, or maybe they haven’t.
Earmarks do not lead to reduced or controlled spending as earmark enthusiast Rep. Rogers has claimed; they simply act as a “gateway drug” for big spending, allowing pork-addicted members of Congress to grease the skids for even bigger, more wasteful legislative vehicles.

Instead of trying to reinstate earmarks, members of Congress should devote their time and energy to restoring regular order to the budget process in order to cut the bloat that continues to plague government spending and prevent authentic compromise.

As voters decisively awarded control of the Senate to the Republicans, while also electing the largest majority of taxpayer advocates in the House since the 1928 elections, Ehrenfreund’s assertion may be correct: Taxpayers are fed up with money mongers who continue to fan the embers of profligate spending in Washington.

A return to the bad old days of earmarking, regardless of political party affiliation, would be a repudiation of the message that voters sent to Capitol Hill as a result of the mid-term elections: move America forward by practicing individual responsibility, not aberrant behavior, to establish a permanent culture of fiscal restraint and trust in Washington.

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