- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2014

Congress may have sworn off earmarks, but lawmakers still managed to tuck into latest versions of the defense spending bill dozens of pet projects that have only tenuous connections to national security.

The Senate, for instance, included nearly $250 million for cancer research, and House lawmakers added $10 million in research funding specifically directed to historically black colleges. Senators tacked on $3 million for the Healthy Base Initiative, which makes sure healthy snacks are available in vending machines and troops know about workout facilities on military bases.

For failing to cut its pet projects from the already bloated military budget, Congress earns this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction given by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

An analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance says Congress added nearly $20 billion in projects that the Pentagon didn’t request but that lawmakers included in their versions of the defense spending bills: 137 items worth $8.2 billion in the House and 190 projects worth $11.7 billion in the Senate.

“As millions of Americans continue to tighten their own belts and make sacrifices this summer due to their own financial struggles, their elected representatives in Washington continue what amounts to out-of-control spending,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

By adding the projects, he said, lawmakers are “doing what’s best for themselves, not the country.”

Members of Congress fiercely defend their power over spending and say they always rewrite the budget requests submitted by the president each year, tweaking his numbers and shifting money to where they believe it’s best spent. Indeed, the budget sequesters and other congressional spending limits cut overall federal spending in 2012 and 2013.

Lawmakers banned earmarks when Republicans took control of the House in 2011, so none of the projects qualifies under Congress’ official definition for pork projects.

Taxpayer groups dispute that official definition and say some of the projects are beyond the pale.

The biggest-ticket items were extra money for aircraft, including more EA-18G Growlers for the Navy and additional F-35 fighters for several branches.

Also included is extra money for the Iron Dome program that Israel uses to defend against rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. Congress approved the funding last week in an emergency spending bill signed by the president.

Some of the spending seems to raise other questions, including $1 million that the Senate proposed to teach math to Defense Department employees.

Cancer research isn’t in the core job responsibilities of the Pentagon, but the Senate allocated $120 million for breast cancer research, $64 million to study prostate cancer and $10 million to investigate ovarian cancer, as well as $50 million to author research papers about cancer studies.

Celebrations and festivities also got a slice of the pie: House lawmakers managed to sneak into defense spending legislation $4.9 million to subsidize next year’s installment of “A Capitol Fourth,” the Independence Day concert and fireworks extravaganza on the National Mall.

The House has passed its version of the bill, but the Senate has yet to tackle any of its spending bills on the chamber floor. Congress is likely to pass some stopgap funding before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, which means continuing 2014 spending into fiscal year 2015.

After elections in November, Congress will return for a lame-duck session to try to mesh together spending bills. It also gives lawmakers another chance to delete — or add — pet projects.

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