Members of Congress sneaked 282 earmarks totaling $15.3 billion into fiscal year 2019 spending bills despite a ban on congressional pork-barrel projects imposed in 2011, a watchdog group reports.
This was the largest amount of money directed to pet projects since Congress imposed the moratorium, states the 2019 Congressional Pig Book, the 27th edition of an annual report by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), published June 12.
The total amount of earmarks increased by 21.6 percent over 2017.
Burros, Fish, Flies
Some of the highlights from this year’s Pig Book include seven earmarks totaling $1.8 billion toward the purchase of 16 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, $13.8 million for wild horse and burro management—the largest amount ever—and $12 million for aquatic plant control.
Earmarks can be used to fund programs which the executive branch would like to discontinue, such as $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and $9 million for the fruit fly quarantine program.
Since 1991, Congress has approved 111,144 earmarks costing $359.8 billion.
Undermining the Budget Process
Allowing individual members of Congress to allocate taxpayers’ dollars makes it difficult to control expenditures, says Justin Bogie, a senior policy analyst in fiscal affairs at The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Freedom.
“Congress continues to find ways to divert money to pet projects in the form of earmarks,” Bogie said. “Earmarks undermine the congressional budget process.”
Public information available before the moratorium showed earmarks were heavily slanted toward the most powerful members of Congress, says Bogie. For example, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees controlled nearly two-thirds of all earmarked spending.
“This is not the representative government American citizens expect to be getting,” Bogie said.
Secrecy, ‘Wheeling and Dealing’
Earmarks generally provide limited information on where and how the money will be spent, the report states. This anonymity allows backroom wheeling and dealing, says Edward Hudgins, research director at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.
“Earmarks are just a way for members of Congress to get around what few institutional checks are left on spending, so they can pass out favors to political friends and seek to buy votes,” Hudgins said.
“Recent earmarks are particularly shameful because Congress supposedly has placed a moratorium on such spending, so members earmark spending for their districts anonymously, behind closed doors, to hide their misdeeds from the public.”
Increasing Federal Deficits
Excessive spending has rapidly increased the annual budget deficit, says Hudgins.
“Irresponsible federal government spending has added more to the national debt in the past 12 years than was accumulated in the entire history of the United States before that time combined,” Hudgins said.
“In light of our nation’s $22 trillion debt, Congress should be carefully prioritizing every dollar it spends, not carving out earmarks for personally favored programs and projects,” Bogie said.
“Congress should focus on returning to regular budget order, restoring oversight and accountability to the appropriations process, and finding ways to put the federal government on a path which balances the budget and pays down the national debt,” Bogie said.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
2019 Congressional Pig Book, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), June 12, 2019: https://www.cagw.org/media/press-releases/citizens-against-government-waste-releases-2019-congressional-pig-book