November 8, 2007
Defense Conference Report Loaded with Pork
The conference report for the fiscal year 2008 defense appropriations bill contains a massive number of earmarks – 2,049 to be exact.
The total cost of these earmarks is $4,982,309,000. Twenty-four earmarks costing $59 million were “airdropped” into the conference report.
These earmarks were considered by neither the House nor the Senate and were immaculately conceived in the conference report.
The complete list of earmarks can be found on page 500.
I was going to list all of the earmarks – I changed my mind when I actually went to the document and seen the 100 plus pages of earmarks. You can look at all of the earmarks on the link above “complete list of earmarks.”
Senator Coburn Teaches Us How Senators Slip In Earmarks – Toolkit
July 1, 2007
Cost of earmarks doubles
This chart indicates the cost of earmarks has doubled since 1994.
Dr. Coburn has established this site to empower voters to demand reforms that will place the future quality of life for the next generation above concerns about the next election.
How Congress Spends Your Money
Congress spends money by passing appropriations bills each year. There are 12 such bills in the Senate, each covering several federal agencies that are part of the regular process and subject to budgetary caps established by the annual congressional budget process. When Congress passes a budget resolution, it imposes a spending limit for what’s called the “discretionary” part of the federal budget. That includes the part not spent on entitlement programs that Congress is not legally allowed to limit – such as Social Security and Medicare. Congressional leaders then assign certain spending caps to each of the 12 appropriations bills. It takes a supermajority of the Senate to override those caps.
Outside of this regular appropriations process is what’s called “emergency supplemental” appropriations bills. Congress can pass an unlimited number of these each year, for the alleged purpose of quickly addressing unforeseen emergencies such as funding massive disaster relief or responding to a terror attack or act of war. In general, Congress tends to pass one or two of these each year. In recent years, they have been labeled as being for Katrina relief or for war funding. By continuing to pass supplemental “emergency” bills, even when the hurricane struck last year and the war is several years old, Congress gets away with placing all these expensive but necessary programs outside the usual budget disciplinary measures. Supplemental appropriations bills operate outside the budget – they have no caps and therefore no spending discipline is required.
That’s why supplemental bills get turned into vehicles for every irresponsible spending whim of any member of Congress. They move quickly through the Congress, and they are seen as “must-pass” because no one wants to vote against the war or against Katrina relief. In some instances, nobody sees the bills until right before they are supposed to vote.
Earmarks Hidden in “Reports”
What’s worse, appropriations bills move with a so-called “report” attached. In these reports, additional elaboration beyond the bill language is provided by the bill authors, and this language is seen as almost as binding as the bill language itself. Agencies ignore this “report language” at their peril. It is in these reports that most earmarks are hidden. The provisions get slipped into reports by the bill authors late at night, behind closed doors and nobody has a chance to vote on them individually. To make matters worse, these spending bills are often rammed through Congress before anybody has time to actually read them. Earmarks, however, aren’t always in appropriations bills. Sometimes, they are stuffed into “authorization bills” like the highway bill – a bill passed by the Congress every few years to reauthorize transportation programs. Regardless of what bill they move in, earmarks are usually only discovered after they have become law.
So What Are Earmarks Anyway?
Earmarks are short provisions that direct funds to a specific project in a specific location. Their champions come to Washington, D.C., and lobby members of Congress to insert the earmark into an appropriations bill, which essentially provides the organization in question a check for a certain amount of money to do a specific type of project. For example, more than $250 million was earmarked to a so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska – to fund a long bridge to an island with 50 residents, where a 7-minute ferry already existed. Another example was a sculpture garden for several hundred thousand dollars in Seattle, Washington. Often, very little oversight occurs about whether the project was completed properly, on budget and on time. Earmarks are taken out of accounts that are supposed to fund broader programs that operate in a more competitive manner. For example, a grant program run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides grants to communities for economic development projects is one of the worst-“raided” accounts for earmarks. This process leaves almost no money left in that account to fund the competitive grant program.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of earmarks, or “pork projects,” is the fact individual members of Congress exercise sole funding and oversight authority over earmarked funds. In most cases, no competition occurs, no outcomes are demanded, and no accountability is provided for the taxpayers to ensure they got something of value for their money.
Motivations for Earmarking
Earmarks have grown over time. In the 1980s, President Reagan vetoed a spending bill because it had about 160 pork projects. Last year, more than 15,000 pork projects were passed by Congress. Earmarking is neither a time-honored tradition nor an honorable process. Earmarks serve a parochial interest at the local level – the very opposite of what federal programs are supposed to do. Members of Congress brag about the “pork” they bring home to their districts or states. In this way, the special interests in their districts who lobbied them for the project then praise the member and often campaign on his/her behalf. In other words, earmarking is inherently a political activity designed to keep incumbents in power and in the pocket of special interest groups in their home districts. There are only a handful of the 535 members of Congress who do not engage in earmarking. In the Senate, only three senators do not earmark. Dr. Coburn is one of them.
Leading the Charge Against Pork
Although some members defend the earmarking process as a legitimate use of power to serve their constituents, Dr. Coburn has led the fight against earmarking. He has vowed, along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), to challenge every single earmark this year, even if it means bringing the entire appropriations process to a virtual standstill. Dr. Coburn believes earmarking is the “gateway drug” to spending addiction. Often, fiscally conservative members get bullied into voting for monstrously bad spending bills because they are threatened with losing earmarks they inserted if they vote against the bill. In order to protect their earmarks, they violate their broader principles on spending.
For more information about various amendments Dr. Coburn has offered to stop earmarks. In addition to his floor action, Dr. Coburn has held a variety of hearings in the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee. Dr. Coburn also convened a hearing specifically on earmarks for museums, zoos and other projects. These hearings provide a wealth of testimony, charts and other resources.
The Power of the People
Only an informed voting public can begin to demand reform to the earmarking process. Many members of Congress engage in earmarking because they mistakenly believe they need to earmark in order to protect their seats. Dr. Coburn hopes this toolkit will empower you to let your elected officials know that earmarking is damaging America now and endangering the long-term fiscal legacy for future generations of Americans.
Check out CongressDaily’s coverage of earmarks on Capitol Hill.