Powerful Democratic lawmakers are wallowing in pork now that the party has brought back the long-abused tradition of congressional earmarks in the federal budget.
Earmarks, often derided as pork-barrel spending, are direct appropriations that are inserted into spending bills that target purely local projects and have the happy side effect of boosting a sitting lawmaker’s popularity with the folks back home who get to spend that cash.
After a string of scandals revealed extensive misuse of earmarks, Republicans banned the practice in the House as of 2011, according to The Washington Post. Shamed by former President Barack Obama into following suit, Democrats who controlled the Senate at the time did the same.
Although lawmakers were still able to use their power to muscle federal agencies into including earmark-style projects into their budget requests, the practice ended until Democrats took control of Congress after the 2020 elections.
And now it is hog heaven.
On its way to spending $1.5 trillion to keep the government running for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the budget bill approved by the House includes more than 4,000 earmarks, according to The Hill.
The list of lawmakers’ pet projects covers a whopping 367 pages.
“There’s been a decade of pent-up desire to get back to earmarks, and you’re seeing some of that come to fruition, particularly those people who were writing the appropriations bills, dealing with all of those type of issues and then not getting the gravy they certainly did earlier in their career,” said Steve Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will have lots of choice pieces of pork to pass around as he tours New York on his path to re-election.
According to The Hill, Schumer is connected with at least 59 earmarks totaling $80 million in just one section of the bill, transportation and housing and urban development.
It counted another 10 earmarks from the majority leader in the energy and water development section totaling nearly $11 million.
And that’s not all.
Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, who is tracking the earmark numbers, said he counted 142 Schumer-linked pet projects to show off for the folks back home.
Democrats were not alone in their pursuit of pork. Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell passed on having earmarks, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama grabbed what the Hill referred to as “plenty.”
Shelby, the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was joined by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, its chairman, in cashing in on their seniority and status.
“By our quick analysis Sen. Shelby had only 16 earmarks but they totaled nearly $650 million,” Ellis said. “Whereas by our count, Sen. Leahy got 79 earmarks worth $162.2 million.”
“I think it’s terrible,” Braun said. “I think it’s emblematic of what’s wrong with the whole place, especially when you look at the top-line numbers that are out there and the record spending that we’re going to be putting forward in this omnibus bill.”
But advocates of earmarks extol their virtues.
“To say congressmen or senators have no right to earmark funds is to extract elected officials from the flow of legislation that should exist between state and local people who identify needs at the local level and then federal people who have the resources to meet those needs,” said James Dyer, a former Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.
“People who are against these things are living in the past,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has at least 32 earmarks totaling almost $50 million, while Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona weighed in with 16 earmarks worth almost $12 million and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada has 15 earmarks totaling almost $38 million.
“It’s totally pork-barreling,” said Thomas Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, according to the Hill.
Because earmarks are identified by lawmakers, a break with the past, they can be tracked, Schatz said.
“For at least some of them, we can see which member of Congress has requested the earmark and do further investigation into where it is, what it’s doing, who it’s for,” he said.
“We’re going to find more than what they listed.”
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