What a nice change of pace to see that Congressional earmarks -- the individual projects that members of Congress request for their districts -- dropped 15.5 percent in 2010, from $19.6 billion to $16.5 billion. And one lawmaker has decided to withdraw all of his earmark requests for 2011.
"I realize I am just one junior senator," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday. "But given our country's fiscal condition, I could not in good conscience keep my name next to any earmark requests this year." Corker also called the earmarking system "fundamentally flawed."
Corker's announcement came hours after the release of the annual "Pig Book," a list of the 9,000-plus individual project requests by members of Congress. The book is compiled and made public every year by Citizens Against Government Waste, which also dispenses "Oinker Awards" to highlight what it calls egregious examples of pork barrel requests.
One award winner is Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. He got nearly half a billion dollars for his pet projects, including $500,000 for the University of Southern Mississippi's "cannabis eradication" program. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) received the "Narcissist Award" for getting $7 million each for projects named for them, and a group of representatives got called out for requesting $206,000 for wool research in Montana, Texas, and Wyoming.
Hawaii took the grand prize in an unofficial, tongue-in-cheek recounting of congressional spending habits, claiming $326 million in earmarked projects, or $251 per-capita. North Dakota and West Virginia were next -- and Wyoming was at the bottom with $6.8 million worth of questionable projects.
The record for pork barrel spending -- nearly 14,000 projects at a cost of $27 billion -- goes to the Congress in 2005, when Republicans ran the House and Senate.. When CAGW began tracking the spending in 1991, Congress spent just $3 billion on about 500 items.
Citizens Against Government Waste
attributed this year's drop off, in part, to reforms put in place when Democrats reclaimed control of Congress in 2006, CNN
said. These days, legislators are supposed to attach their names to special interest projects tucked inside of spending bills and written requests should show where the money is headed and how it will be used. Even so, the citizens group said anonymous "stealth" projects accounted for $6.5 billion of the pork spending, much of it in the defense bill.
To come up with the numbers, the government waste folks use a broader definition of earmarks than do some critics who consider pork to be a project slipped into legislation at the last minute with little or scrutiny. The citizens group says any item that was not sought by the president in his budget, or was requested by only one house of Congress, or was not competitively bid, or greatly exceeded the previous year's spending, or was not properly considered in committee, is pork. Add to that any line item that serves only a narrow provincial interest -- Alaska's infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" comes to mind -- and you've got a lot to work with, 9,129 projects in all this year.
Speaking at the Oinker press conference Wednesday, longtime pork critic Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that Tea Party protesters are driven by Congress' pork-laden ways, particularly Congressional earmarks. "They're frustrated. They're tired. They're tired of taxes and they're tired of the wasteful, unnecessary, corrupting influence of earmarking and wasteful spending," McCain said.
He also took a swipe at President Obama. "My favorite bumper sticker that I've seen recently says, "Please don't tell the president what comes after a trillion."
Tom Diemer contributed to this report.