Remember when Democrats promised to reform Congress and reduce pork? Well, neither Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi remember it, according to a study done by Taxpayers for Common Sense. Members of both parties have apparently gotten over their shyness in grabbing earmarks, and the election season has focused budgeting on the nation’s highest priority — incumbency protection:
More than a year after Congress pledged to curb pork barrel funding known as earmarks, lawmakers are gearing up for another spending binge, directing billions toward organizations and companies in their home districts.
Earmark spending in the House’s defense authorization bill alone soared 29 percent last month, from $7.7 billion last year to $9.9 billion now, according to data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group in the District. The Senate bill has not been approved, but the proposal includes an increased number of earmarks, although for a slightly lesser total cost.
Lawmakers had promised to cut back on earmarks and mandated better disclosure of them after steady criticism that they were funding programs with little debate or oversight. The promises led to an initial decline in earmarks last year that was trumpeted on Capitol Hill. But the new data show that they are surging again, at least in the proposed Pentagon authorization budget, which sets out priorities to be funded in a later appropriations bill.
Yeah, I know. Who’s surprised by this? Absolutely no one. Democratic pork meets Republican pork, and little baby porks appear and grow up overnight.
In the Senate, Joe Lieberman takes the honors with a whopping $292 million in earmarked funds in the Pentagon bill. Carl Levin got almost $200 million. Republicans Jeff Sessions and Elizabeth Dole follow the two Democrats with pork costing over $180 million each. In the House version, 60% of the members of the House Armed Services committee who earmarked money got campaign contributions from the recipients. 95% receive contributions from companies who received earmarks, whether the member specifically requested it or not.
Some other earmarks stand out for their sheer chutzpah:
- Rep. Silvestre Reyes’ (D-TX) largest campaign contributor over the last reporting period (with at least $18,000 in individual contributions) is Digital Fusion, for which he requested a $4 million earmark for “Operational/Technical Training Validation Testbed.” This earmark request is especially remarkable considering that Digital Fusion may have illegally reimbursed company executives for political contributions made to Reyes, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal.
- Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) obtained an earmark for $5.4 million for a “Hyperspectral Sensor for Improved Force Protection” from Clean Earth Technologies, Akin’s largest campaign donor with over $14,000 in contributions. Clean Earth Technologies is located in Akin’s home state of Missouri and dedicated a division to the research and development of different imaging technologies. Akin is also the only lawmaker to receive any donation from Clean Earth Technologies during this cycle.
- Continuing this trend, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) requested a $3.5 million earmark for DRS Technologies to build “Short Range electro-optic sensors” in Florida. This request comes after DRS Technologies became Nelson’s top campaign donor with contributions totaling $62,800 over the last year and the start of this election cycle.
Democrats have the most pork in both chambers for the Armed Services Committees members. They have over $1.3 billion in pork in the Senate, and almost $1.1 billion in the House. Republicans gave it the ol’ college try, with $1.1 billion and $877 million, respectively. That probably reflects the disparity in the membership on the committees due to the Democratic control of Congress than any sort of self-control on the part of Republicans.
Just as on energy, the Republicans have essentially given away an opportunity to demonstrate a real difference between the parties. If the GOP adopted an earmark moratorium, they could show some commitment to reforming a system that regularly feeds corruption. Instead, most of them have worked hard to ensure that the Republicans get seen to be as greedy as the Democrats who promised reform in 2006, and then bellied up to the trough in 2007 and 2008.
The GOP leadership in both chambers have talked about re-establishing credibility as reformers. So far, it looks like talk is all we’ll get in 2008.