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.
February 17, 2010; 2:48 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Earmarks
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