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Congressional earmarks worth nearly $16 billion

By Paul Kane
Congress devoted nearly $16 billion to line-item spending this year, decreasing the overall number of so-called earmarks that lawmakers issued but spending slightly more on those controversial items in President Obama's first year in office.

For fiscal 2010, Congress included 9,413 earmarks in the annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government, down from 10,363 in 2009, according to a report released Wednesday by Taxpayers for Common Sense, an independent watchdog dedicated to routing out waste. Those earmarks -- which Obama has vowed to sharply reduce -- accounted for $15.9 billion, up from $15.6 billion last year, the group found.

"The increased earmark transparency in recent years reveals a troubling pattern during difficult budget times. High levels of special interest spending remain and powerful lawmakers are hoarding cash for their districts while the rest of the Congress fights for table scraps. Spending should be a meritocracy. Instead of simply rewarding the constituents or campaign contributors of the politically powerful, our taxpayer dollars must be spent on only the most critical and important projects nationwide," Ryan Alexander, president of TCS, said in a statement.

After a series of scandals involving earmarks, Congress passed rules in 2007 requiring lawmakers to publicly disclose the earmarks they secured and to vow that in no way were they financially benefiting from those spending items. Further rules changes require lawmakers to, in each spring, post the letters of every earmark they are seeking on their congressional Web site. Obama, who sought earmarks in his first two years in the Senate but later disavowed them, has asked Congress to go a step further and post all earmark requests on one easy-to-search Web site. This would allow groups like Alexander's to more easily search the data and the requests, as opposed to maneuvering around 535 Web sites for each member of the House and Senate.

The group analyzed the spending from the 12 appropriations bills but was not able to compare the overall work of the House and Senate committees, in part because last year's supplemental funding bills for the wars and other emergencies included hundreds of millions of dollars worth of earmarks. This year's supplemental bill has not yet been considered.

TCS and other critics complain that these line items -- often inserted into legislation at the sole discretion of a single lawmaker, issuing what amounts to a no-bid contract -- reward lawmakers with influence because of their seniority on the appropriations panels.

Taxpayers for Common Sense found that in the fiscal 2010 spending bills, members of the House defense appropriations committee -- a small clutch of fewer than 20 lawmakers -- accounted for 13 percent of all the earmarks issued by the House.

The top five earmarkers in each chamber are listed on the 44 blog.

By Paul Kane  |  February 17, 2010; 2:48 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , Earmarks  
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Next: The largest earmarkers in Congress


"$16 billion. Big effin deal" IS a big effin deal. Probably more than enough to get rid of all the snow in DC.

Posted by: BEEPEE | February 18, 2010 1:28 AM | Report abuse

Earmarks are the selfish way of politicians to buy voters' sympathy.One of the people above wrote that 16 billion is nothing compared to the more than a trillion budget.Evidently he was absent when the subject of arithmetic was taught. 16 billion here and 5 billion there and so on, make the more than a trillion, and the overwhelming deficit that faces America. A respected journalist wrote that America may not be too far from following Greece, and I believe it.

Posted by: maitami | February 18, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

$16 billion. Big effin deal. What is the total federal budget this year - three and a half trillion - give or take a few hundred billion? So let's see, $16 billion is less than 1/2 of 1% of the total federal budget? Find something else WaPo to provoke false outrage amongst the tea baggers.

Posted by: johnk1000 | February 17, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Earmarks re not the problem. They are just another symptom. There's no debate about this: Politicians cannot solve our spending addiction.
I think the debate shuld focus on the voter, or the no-voter. Dust off the concept of civic duty. The blame for our government budgetary problem lies at the feet of the non-voter and voter.
Politicians don't want to alienate a voter, and more importantly a coterie of supporters. The newsmedia doesn't want to alienate an audience, or break from the pack. Corportions don't want to, well....
So, let's see if the American citizen really feels it is powerless to initiate change. First, more should try. The debate must change.
One idea is to demand a pledge from politicians not to pursue any more earmarks.
Party leadership from both sides of the aisle should stick their necks out with this much, and maybe even set an example. Maybe.
Members of the local and national news establishment must start the talk. Maybe.
Let the squirming and ducking and fine-printing begin...or continue, rather. Definately.

Posted by: jmf3210 | February 17, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

jrseeley, it's not complicated to find out if your reps sponsored earmarks. Just go to their website, they should have them posted there. You may be surprised that some of the earmarks are for programs that you support in your hometown.

Posted by: arl09 | February 17, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Earmarks, rank nearly even with partisanship, in my opinion, as a significant reason Congress as a whole is rated so low by the American voting public. I would go so far as to judge a lawmaker who is responsible for an earmark as lacking in integrity. If I discovered that my Representative or either of my Senators were responsible for an earmark, then they lost my vote. Will anybody join me? Let's START holding our own Congressmen accountable. Let's publicize and ridicule ALL special interests.

Posted by: jrseeley | February 17, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: JWTX | February 17, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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