Despite earmark reforms, 'pork' spending rises

The 2008 'Pig Book' says Congress spent $17.2 billion on pet projects in fiscal '08. But now it's easier to tell who did it.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Despite promises on both sides of the aisle to cut back on "pork-barrel" spending, Congress served up 11,610 member-sponsored projects in spending bills for FY 2008 at a cost to taxpayers of $17.2 billion.

That's the second-highest number of pet projects since Citizens Against Government Waste began counting 18 years ago, according to CAGW's annual Pig Book, released Wednesday. Since 1991, the public tab for "pork" spending is a budget-busting $271 billion.

"When Congress adopted earmark reforms last year, there was hope that the number and cost of earmarks would be cut in half," says CAGW President Tom Schatz. "That has not occurred."

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Yet there are signs Congress is getting the message that the public is fed up with pork – at least for those projects located outside their own states or districts.

Thanks to ethics reforms sponsored by Democrats at the beginning of the current Congress, lawmakers in the House and Senate are now required to add their names to each earmark.

For the first time, CAGW tallied the number and cost of earmarks for each member of Congress. As expected, top members of Appropriations Committees led the list.

House Republicans, who are convinced that soaring earmarks is a reason they lost their majority in 2004 elections, are calling for a moratorium on earmarks for fiscal year 2009. Savings from a moratorium could pay to "permanently repeal the marriage penalty and extend the child tax credit," says Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee.

In a press briefing Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "it's always an option." On Wednesday, House GOP leader John Boehner said Republicans would force a vote Tuesday on a full earmark freeze. It was not expected to pass.

With Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona – a longtime pork basher – as the expected Republican presidential nominee, earmark reform is a 2008 campaign issue. Both Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York and Barack Obama (D) of Illinois voted for an earmark moratorium for 2009.

The March 13 vote failed in the Senate by a vote of 29 to 71. A similar vote was rejected in the House 157 to 263.

According to the newest Pig Book, Senator McCain secured no earmarks; Senator Obama, 53 at a cost of $97.4 million; and Senator Clinton, 281 at a cost of $296.2 million.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, an early and outspoken opponent of earmarks, says with the Senate moratorium defeat, he has "moved on to other issues.

"The American public is sick of pork. Just wait to see the ads on earmarks in the 2008 campaign – they're going to be plentiful," he adds.

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