Today, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released their annualCongressional Pig Book. The 2017 edition identifies 163 earmarks at a cost of $6.8 billion, an increase of 33.3% from FY2016 and a 106.1% increase from FY2012.
An earmark is a provision inserted into a spending bill that directs funds to a specific project or group without going through the proper channels of approval. Described by former Senator Tom Coburn, as “the gateway to drug to spending addiction in Washington,” earmarks were banned in 2010. However, Congress has gotten around the earmark moratorium by hiding them throughout spending bills by adding money without any specific information about the recipient or the requestor.
A common argument to the legitimacy of earmarks is that they “grease the wheels” in Congress. Basically, what this means is that Members of Congress bribe other Members to vote for legislation that they do not agree with – putting career before country. According to the 2017 Pig Book, “Earmarks create a few winners (appropriators, special interests, and lobbyists) and a great many losers (taxpayers). They contribute to the deficit directly, by tacking on extra funding, and indirectly, by attracting votes to costly legislation that might not otherwise pass. Earmarks corrupt democracy by eclipsing more important matters in the minds of legislators and voters.”
Entries in this year’s report include:
$1,279,200,000 for 31 earmarks for health and disease research under the Defense Health Program. A duplication of other health programs, the earmarks also takeaway funding for defense priorities. According to The Department of Everything, “fewer resources are available for DOD to address those specific health challenges facing members of the armed forces for which no other agencies are focused.”
$671,540,000 for 14 earmarks for the Army Corps of Engineers. According to the report, “since FY 1996, Members of Congress have added 6,916 earmarks for the Corps, costing taxpayers $12.8 billion,” and is “among the most heavily earmarked areas of the federal budget.”
$5,900,000 for the East-West Center in Hawaii. The center was established in 1960 to promote better relations with the Pacific and Asian nations, but has long been the ugly face of earmarks. In fact, the State Department has tried to eliminate the program for years by not requesting any funding in their annual budget requests. However, a long time tradition of Senators from Hawaii have continued to earmark funds for the center totaling $138.2 million since 1997.
At a time when our national debt is close to surpassing $20 trillion, Congress should be focused on prioritizing spending and cutting waste, not prioritizing special interests and cutting backroom deals. The 2010 earmark moratorium was a huge win for taxpayers. However, as highlighted by the CAGW report, Members of Congress are finding creative ways around the ban and the number of earmarks is creeping upwards. Transparency and oversight is critical to hold Congress accountable. Groups like Citizens Against Government Waste and Restore Accountability are working hard to hold our government accountable. Unfortunately, there is still more work to do.
Read the Congressional Pig Book here!