Remember when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid claimed that they would reduce pork and make what was left utterly transparent, after winning control of both chambers of Congress in 2006? Well, they certainly don’t, as an AP analysis published today shows. Transparency has improved somewhat, but earmark requests have escalated (emphasis mine):
For all the outcry, most earmarks have much to commend them. Just because a lawmaker arranges a project for his home district doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy. But many also go to causes or projects that, on the surface, don’t appear all that necessary.
Anti-pork watchdogs, for example, point to the $1.8 million in five earmarks for Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, which ran $8 million in the black last year and has embarked on a four-year, $100 million fundraising campaign. With that kind of money, why should taxpayers fund a $400,000 program earmarked by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to help the aquarium conduct a program aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency, watchdog groups ask.
Despite such questions and public outrage over high-profile earmarking abuses, the system that now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff once called “the favor factory” is still running full tilt. Congress disclosed 11,234 earmarks totaling $14.8 billion in bills covering government spending this year, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. The White House puts the total at $18 billion, including the amounts that lawmakers added to what President Bush sought for specific projects.
A new earmarking cycle begins this month as the House and Senate Appropriations committees reveal spending bills for the 2009 budget year that starts Oct. 1. The House committee alone has 23,438 earmark requests before it, so many that its Web site for accepting requests froze up and the deadline for receiving them had to be extended. Lawmakers are unlikely to obtain many earmarks in time for Election Day, but they may tout them in hundreds of press releases anyway.
Pelosi promised less pork during the 2006 campaign. When faced with a deluge of pork requests, more than double the number approved the year before by the entire Congress, did the Democrats shut down the application process? No — they extended it. Does the House leadership think that 23,438 pork-barrel project requests is too small?
How many of these earmarks support profitable enterprises like the Shedd Aquarium? If they produced an $8 million profit last year, they hardly need $400,000 of our money for any purpose, even the odd notion that an aquarium can somehow impact juvenile delinquency. As the article explains in detail, the purpose of these earmarks isn’t to educate youth but to re-elect politicians by putting taxpayer money in the hands of local activists.
Republicans didn’t cover themselves in glory during their porkfest from 2001-2006, and many of them still haven’t learned from their mistakes. However, the Democrats have managed to outdo the GOP during their short run at leadership. Their transparency efforts fell far short of what was required, they air-dropped over 9,000 pork items into the last budget despite supposedly prohibiting that practice, and now they’re preparing a pork roast on a scale not yet seen or contemplated.
If the GOP had any sense, they would take this opportunity to declare an immediate and unilateral moratorium on pork and defy the Democrats to match them. They have an opportunity to take action on reform instead of just talking incessantly about it. Republicans will not win a majority in either chamber unless they demonstrate real leadership on real reform and demonstrate a clear difference between themselves and the Democrats on spending.