pork barrel spending
After taking control of the House of Representatives in a wave election in 2010, House Republicans decided to extend their moratorium on earmarks, a controversial budget tactic that allow members to insert pet projects in spending bills without so much as a committee hearing or vote.
But before the GOP took control, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who would later become House Majority Leader, suggested that the moratorium on earmarks may only be temporary, which would be a slap in the face to fiscal conservatives and Tea Party activists that helped the GOP come back to power. Cantor was quick to amend his remarks, but it looks like House Republicans have learned little. Reuters notes that they are considering resuming the practice of earmarking:
The huge federal transportation bill was in tatters in early March when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama posed a heretical idea for breaking through gridlock in the House.
In a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans, Rogers recommended reviving a proven legislative sweetener that became politically toxic a year ago.
Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues.
Few members of Congress have been bold enough to use the “e” word since both the House and Senate temporarily banned the practice last year after public outcries about Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” and other pork barrel projects.
But as lawmakers wrestle with legislative paralysis, there are signs that earmarks - special interest projects that used to be tacked onto major bills - could make a comeback.
If you were looking for a substantive discussion of the problems facing the United States, last night’s State of the Union address was a let down.
President Barack Obama spent 62 minutes speaking in mostly generalities and explaining to us how great government spending is, but also warning the Congress that he will veto bills containing earmarks – special projects that are inserted into legislation that go bypass the normal budget process. President Obama also pledged to take measures to cut spending by enacting a five-year freeze on non-defense discretionary spending. While he may consider this to be some great feat, Obama’s proposal will only save $400 billion during that time. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the $6 trillion in budget deficits projected by the Congressional Budget Office.
Obama noted in his speech that non-defense discretionary spending represents a relatively small portion of the budget – around 12 percent, using his numbers, and added that “we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough.”
It may not sound like a lot of money when compared to the $1 trillion budget deficit this year, but a new report released today by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) indentifies 100 projects representing $18.9 billion in wasteful spending approved by Congress in the last fiscal year, the National Journal reports:
As part of an annual “Wastebook” he released [Tuesday], the Oklahoma Republican identified 100 government-backed projects, including a $300,000 effort to promote caviar consumption, that he says highlight the spend-happy nature of Congress at a time Americans are “struggling just to put the basics on the family dinner table.” Combined, the projects total $18.9 billion in what Coburn sees as excess spending.
“How many nutritious school lunches could have been served with the $1.8 million in financial assistance provided to cupcake specialty shops?,” Coburn asks in a letter at the start of the report.
The report derides initiatives from all branches of government, including some increased food stamp benefits for recipients that use medical marijuana, a NASA program designed to research proper food and drink for an unscheduled future mission to Mars and a $32,000 project to recreate a historic street out of Legos.
Coburn also calls out his colleagues for failing to address enough legislation, citing the statistic that they are on track to be the least productive legislature in history. The cost of their inactivity? $132 million, according to the report.
Written by Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
Following the House’s passage of a six-month continuing resolution last week (my comments on the CR here), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) chatted about fiscal policy with a couple of reporters on C-SPAN. The interview did nothing to change my 2010 opinion that the House leadership handing Rogers the chairman’s gavel was “about as inspiring as re-heated meatloaf.”
While Rogers is correct that domestic discretionary spending represents a relatively small share of total spending (approximately 12 percent) and that entitlement spending is the bigger problem, his comment that “we’ve just about reached the bottom of the barrel” on such spending is a stretch. Domestic discretionary spending has dropped, but after a sizeable increase during the 2000s. And arguably more important than the dollar amount this category represents are the activities being funded. For example, the federal government shouldn’t be spending a dime on the Department of Education, which is mostly discretionary spending.
It’s not surprise that there are some House Republicans that want to bring back earmarks. Early last month, some in the caucus made it known that they want to end the moratorium on earmarks. But the push seems to have received more momentum as more House Republicans are making it publicly know that they want to bring earmarks, which Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) once called the “currency of corruption,” back into practice:
A group of Republicans is working on a game plan aimed at lifting the House ban on earmarks early next year.
While the frustrated GOP lawmakers concede that eradicating the ban is not going to happen this Congress, they have become more outspoken in recent weeks and months. Their goal is to change the House’s policy in 2013.
Conservative Rep. John Culberson (Texas) is the most recent GOP lawmaker to publicly push back against the ban that was formally adopted when Republicans took control of the House in 2011.
Culberson, the chairman of a military-construction appropriations panel, expressed exasperation earlier this week that he can’t expedite the expansion of a governmental military facility in Ohio, which is now slated for 2016.
“In light of new security threats to our country and our allies, expansion of [the Foreign Materials Exploitation Lab] is desperately needed now. And because of the earmark ban, I can’t move it … it’s just nuts,” Culberson told The Hill.
Culberson says he’s been “pounding” the leadership to move on the reforms, as well as “educating” his colleagues on the “urgency” of the situation.
This hasn’t gotten much play yet, at least from I’ve seen, but Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) lost her bid for re-election on Tuesday to Brad Wenstrup, a doctor who was supported by the Tea Party movement in the district. John Fund has the story:
The Tea Party is alive and kicking. House Speaker John Boehner can’t help but notice that Representative Jean Schmidt, one of his fellow GOP House members from the Cincinnati area, just went down to defeat at the hands of a political neophyte. Brad Wenstrup is a physician and Iraq War veteran whose only prior political experience was in a losing race for mayor of Cincinnati.
Jean Schmidt had a conservative social and economic voting record in her seven years in Congress, winning “zero” ratings from liberal groups and an 88 percent rating from the National Taxpayers Union in 2010. But she had vulnerabilities, including votes to raise the debt ceiling and for the Wall Street bailout, support for the pro-union Davis-Bacon Act, and a record of supporting tax increases when she was in the state legislature. She was also dogged by accusations she had accepted free legal help from a Turkish-American interest group, although she was cleared of wrongdoing by the House Ethics Committee. But the real mark against her was that she was a Washington incumbent.
Wenstrup hammered Schmidt from the right, and his opposition to pork-barrel spending and support for a flat tax won him the backing of the Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of tea-party groups. But Schmidt still had an overwhelming financial advantage, outspending Wenstrup by three-to-one in the last Federal Election Commission report.
While some conservatives are glossing over Rick Santorum’s voting record in the Senate, others are beginning to express serious concern about his penchant for big government and economic statism. Over Against Crony Capitalism, Nick Sorrentino gets right to the point about Santorum:
What a mess the Republican Party is in that Rick Santorum is being looked at seriously. In a time of deep economic challenge, where the Republican candidates should be polling in the double digits versus Obama, the GOP is seriously flirting with a man who has no intention of reducing the size of the state, in fact has a strong history of growing it, and also has a history of being thumped in elections.
This is not the voting record of a conservative. This is the voting record of a man who believes that government is the solution to many of society’s ills. This is not the direction we need to be heading as a country, especially right now.
Better get used to Obamacare guys, and wars, and economic meddling, and loss of privacy, and God only knows what else.
That list of votes includes support for Medicare Part D, tariffs (protectionism), the interests of labor union, crippling economic regulations, and sin taxes. And let’s not forget that in 2004, Santorum backed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in a heated Republican primary battle. Of course, Specter would go on to become a Democrat, lose his primary election to his opponent; and Toomey is now the junior Senator from Pennsylvania.
Many politicians in Washington rail against wasteful spending. It’s become a convenient part of campaign rhetoric and in communications back in their districts and states. Few, however, have actually done anything to rein waste, fraud, and abuse more than Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). While he has done much in the last year to make fiscal conservative uneasy, Sen. Coburn has been on the forefront of cutting waste.
Yesterday, Sen. Coburn released a new report, Wastebook 2011, that documents and outlines some $6.5 billion in wasteful spending, which are described as “unnecessary, duplicative and low-priority projects spread throughout the federal government.”
Here some examples of waste in the report, as provided by Sen. Coburn’s office. Keep in mind as you’re reading these example and the full report, that the budget deficit for this year was well over $1 trillion and our national debt is current $15 trillion. Granted, the money saved by eliminating these projects wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit, it’s the principle of the matter:
Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John McCain (R-AZ) have released a report documenting 100 of the most wasteful projects funded by the so-called “stimulus” bill, which President Barack Obama and his economic advisors claimed that this spending would keep unemployment under 8% (pg. 5), claiming that it would rise to 9% without such action.
As of today, the unemployment rate sits at 9.5%, Christina Romer, Obama’s chief economic advisor, told us months ago that the stimulus has already had its biggest impact and businesses are sitting on cash because they are worried about the economic climate.
Here is video from their press conference on Monday:
Here are some of the more egregious projects: