The mythology on Capitol Hill is that back in fiscal 2011 Congress declared a moratorium on earmarks. Well, if you believe that, we’ve got a Bridge to Nowhere we’d like to sell you.
The 2017 Congressional Pig Book, the annual compilation of pork barrel projects — earmarks, if you will — by Citizens Against Government Waste was released last week.
Yes, earmarks — 163 of them, costing taxpayers $6.8 billion — are still alive and well, according to the organization. And those are just the ones they can pinpoint.
“Unfortunately, the earmark moratorium has not only failed to eliminate earmarks, but also has rendered the process patently less transparent,” a preface to the book notes. “There are no names of legislators, no list or chart of earmarks, and limited information on where and how the money will be spent.
“Earmarks were scattered throughout the legislative and report language, requiring substantial detective work to unearth each project. While the lower number and cost of earmarks are an improvement relative to many prior years, transparency and accountability have regressed immeasurably.”
But CAGW has the help of its own records to lend an historical perspective.
The reports notes that a thoroughly private organization like the Asia Foundation, which has 500 private donors to help fund its $100 million annual budget, still got a $5 million handout from the taxpayers. Another $5.9 million went to the East-West Center in Hawaii, a favorite of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye and now apparently of Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
There is the Save America’s Treasures grant program, which President Obama tried unsuccessfully to eliminate in fiscal 2011, noting its grants have “not demonstrated how they contribute to nationwide historic preservation goals.” In fact, some grants went to “beautify” sites used largely as wedding venues and for corporate retreats. But the program still got $5 million in fiscal 2017.
The Heritage Partnership Program in the Interior Department — a source of funds for everything from sports complexes to bike paths and “agricultural tourism” — got $10.4 million. Obama tried slashing its funds in six budget years. President Trump proposed cutting its funding to $1 million this year because “there is no systemic process for designating Heritage Partnership Areas or determining their effectiveness.”
But like so many other bits of political pork — through Democratic administrations and Republican ones, it lives on.
Sadly the one thing members of both parties in Congress can agree on is that pork barrel projects will never die.
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