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Decreasing the Deficit: Earmarks, Pork and the Golden Fleecing of America

By Colleen Kelly Johnston
Analysis | March 7, 2011

WICHITA, Kan. - Politico's Simmi Aujla reported in December that Hal Rogers (R-KY) was elected to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Rogers has been named the Prince of Pork for his co-opting millions of taxpayer dollars for his own district's projects. In total Rogers has taken U S taxpayers in the amount of $246 million in earmarks over the past two years. One of Rogers' earmarks passed millions in our money to a reservation in Namibia for the preservation of cheetahs for whom his daughter works.

In January Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) castigated President Obama for pledging to veto any earmarks that came across his desk as part of another bill. Reid waved a small copy of the Constitution and declared, "I'm going to fight as hard as I can against President Obama on these earmarks."

That was after Reid decided to abandon a 1,924-page catchall spending measure laced with home state pet projects, or earmarks.

man-riding-pig.jpgEarmark is the supposedly improved name to replace pork barrel. In general, it is a provision inserted in the text of a Congressional bill or report that allocates money or a tax benefit for a specific project, program, or organization, circumventing a merit-based or competitive allocation process.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) reported that the Senate Appropriations Committee had voted to refuse passage out of his committee and bill containing earmarks. Freshman Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who requested tens of millions of dollars in earmarks as a congressman but voted for the Senate GOP ban, called the Democrats' move "a pretty practical decision."

"It seems consistent with what the House is going to require," Moran told Politico. "I can't imagine that there would be an appropriations bill that would be conferenced and pass the House if it had an earmark."

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 states "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of Appropriations made by law...". Abuse of this section of the Constitution came early. President James Madison vetoed a bill proposed by John Calhoun for prioritizing some road expansion over other saying, "Having considered the bill ... I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States. ... The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified ... in the ... Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers."

In 1975 U. S. Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) established the Order of the Golden Fleece and was presented to those public officials whom Proxmire and the other judges felt wasted public money. Among recipients were NASA's SETI received the award for spend money on a search for extraterrestrial civilizations, Massachusetts Institute of Technology for an aerial house by house map of Aspen Colorado, the Office of Education for spending $219,592 on a "curriculum package" to teach college students how to watch television, US Army for a study of how to buy Worcestershire sauce and the US Postal Service for spending over $3.4 million on a Madison Avenue ad campaign to make Americans write more letters to one another. If the award were available today the public would grant it to The U S Army for using 7.4 million to sponsor NASCAR races. Taxpayers were lucky that Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) checked into it for us.

Earmarks and pork barrel spending have grown by leaps and bounds and have changed the priorities of legitimate spending. The famed Road to Nowhere, the Alaskan Bridge to Nowhere, took money which would go to repair and replacement of transportation infrastructure and co-opted the funds to unneeded and wasteful projects. There has to be a stop to the practice for both political parties.

In the recently passed Continuing Budget Resolution which President Obama signed into law last week $2.7 billion in earmarks were cut from the budget. Maybe this is a start.


3 Comments

'pork barrel' 'earmarks' Are these negative labels that have no real meaning, when it comes to ligitimate spending bills? Are they like the 'entitlement' label being a negative when it is an absolute entitelment to receive what you have paid for?

Asking for national support for your district isn't an automatic earmark. Attaching that request to a non related bill is what is wrong. Amendments should be germane to the original bill.


It seems like one person's pork is another person's stimulus package for his district. Yet the things Congress really need to spend money on get ignored. We need schools, roads, public transportation, sources of renewable energy--well, you get the picture--but it seems most politicians are interested only in saving their own hides.


Pork barrel politics are normal. While I support the President, I will be suprised if we see substantial change in earmark spending.


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