- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

While the last Republican-controlled Congress was able to pass only two of the 11 appropriations bills for fiscal 2007 (defense and homeland security), members of Congress still managed to stuff into those two laws 2,658 pork projects costing $13.2 billion, according to the tally released last week by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). However, Congress’s failure to pass the other nine appropriations bills in its lame-duck session effectively stopped more than 7,000 other pork projects worth an estimated $12 billion. As a result, after seven consecutive years of relentlessly rising pork expenditures, which culminated in $29 billion for 2006, pork spending will be less in 2007 than it was the previous year.

In its 2007 Congressional Pig Book, which CAGW has been publishing annually since 1991, the watchdog organization reported that defense and homeland-security pork fell below 2006 levels. Compared to $14.9 billion in pork in the 2006 defense appropriations bill, for example, the 2007 measure contained only $10.8 billion. At least the total has finally begun to move in the right direction. Other good news included the fact that the incoming Democratic chairmen of the appropriations committees in the House (David Obey of Wisconsin) and the Senate (Robert Byrd of West Virginia) successfully enforced their moratorium on earmarks that would have accompanied the other nine appropriations bills. To that end, the continuing resolution that Congress passed last month to fund the government for the balance of fiscal 2007 included no earmarks.

Unfortunately, as CAGW President Tom Schatz noted last week, “there’s no pork dividend [equal to] that $12 [billion] to $13 billion because Congress took that money and spent it on other programs.” Moreover, Mr. Schatz confirmed troubling reports that legislators and their staffs have been busy lately calling agencies and demanding that spending still be earmarked toward projects that fell victim to the moratorium. To his great credit, Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman reacted quickly by sending a letter to federal agencies instructing them not to honor any earmarks that have not been specifically included in legislation passed by Congress. Indeed, according to a review by the Congressional Research Service, it turns out that more than 90 percent of earmarks are traditionally found in non-binding “report language,” not in actual law. Lacking the force of enacted law, these non-binding earmarks all along would have been technically and legally subject to what CAGW calls “a virtual line-item veto.”

Due to the moratorium, at least for this year, CAGW could triumphantly announce that “[t]here are no indoor rain forests, National Peanut Festivals, mariachi music grants or teapot museums to be found.” Still, too much earmarking found its way into the defense and homeland-security bills. As Arizona Sen. John McCain, a renowned pork-buster, explains: “It’s the old Willie Sutton syndrome — they go to the defense appropriations bill because that’s where the money is.” Particularly egregious pork stuffed into the defense and homeland-security bills included: $1.65 million to improve the shelf life of vegetables; $1 million for a California telescope to search for extraterrestrial intelligence; and millions more in ostensibly anti-terror, port-security grants for Martha’s Vineyard, six questionable ports in Arkansas and numerous other low-risk, undeserving harbors around the country. On the other hand, we seriously question the inclusion of the F-22A Raptor air-superiority fighter, which will enable the Air Force to maintain dominance of the skies around the world well into the latter part of the first half of the 21st century.

As deplorable as pork spending is, it is imperative for us to keep it in perspective. Contrary to what too many Republican politicians would like Americans to believe, pork represents a tiny fraction of the frightening explosion in the national debt in recent years. Beginning with its first Pig Book in 1991, CAGW has identified a cumulative $254 billion in pork spending. That represents only 4.4 percent of the $5.8 trillion increase in the national debt since 1990. During the first six fiscal years of the Bush administration (2002-07), CAGW-identified pork spending totals $135 billion, which is only 4.2 percent of the startling $3.238 trillion increase in the national debt over the same period.

The national debt has been rising by an average of $540 billion per year under President Bush. If pork spending were zero for each of the last six years, the national debt would still have increased by an annual average of $517 billion. Now, consider the ratio of national debt to gross domestic product (GDP). With pork, it has soared from 57.4 percent in fiscal 2001 to 65.5 percent in 2007. If pork spending had been completely eliminated throughout the first six years of the Bush presidency, the crucial debt-to-GDP ratio would still have skyrocketed to 64.5 percent in 2007.

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