- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pork-barrel spending comes with an odor this year - pig.

The long list of pet projects passed by Congress in a record deficit year includes $1.8 million to study why pigs smell.

Other gems include $1.9 million for a water taxi in Connecticut, $3.8 million to preserve a baseball stadium in Detroit and $380,000 for a fairgrounds in Kotzebue, Alaska, just above the Arctic Circle.

In a fiscal year with a deficit projected to reach $1.8 trillion, lawmakers approved $19.6 billion of small-gauge projects that only the folks back home could love.

Congress stuffed more than 10,000 pork-barrel projects into federal appropriations, according to the latest annual review of “porkers” by Citizens Against Government Waste, a taxpayer watchdog group. This represented, in dollar terms, a 14 percent increase from the previous year.

The pork-barrel gold rush was perhaps best epitomized by the $1.8 million that Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, earmarked for swine-odor and manure-management research in Ames. The senator himself acknowledged the irony.

“I'm sure that David Letterman will probably be talking about it,” Mr. Harkin said on the Senate floor in defense of his earmark. “We've got $1.8 million to study why pigs smell.”

Earmarking can be deadly serious business. The FBI recently raided two lobbying firms closely tied to Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, who earmarked $24.5 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center. The Justice Department, which administers the NDIC, has asked Congress to shut it down because its operations are duplicative.

Some of the pet projects can be sizable as well. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the Hawaii Democrat who received an award from the East-West Center in 2007, earmarked $11 million for the institution despite the fact that the State Department has tried for years to eliminate the center by never seeking any funds for it.

The Washington area got its share of the giveaways, too. Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, earmarked nearly $100,000 for the Georgetown Metro Connection, a bus service that runs from Georgetown to Dupont Circle to Rosslyn, which is in Mr. Moran's district.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who received a rating of F-minus from the Gun Owners of America, earmarked $167,000 for the Autry National Center of the American West, a Los Angeles museum that recently showcased an exhibit titled “Pistols: Dazzling Firearms.”

In August 2007, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat who is now President Obama's chief of staff, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times forcefully defending a fully transparent earmark policy. “I happen to believe that I know more about the needs of the people I represent than some bureaucrat in Washington, an ideologue in the White House, or worse, a bureaucrat with orders from a White House ideologue,” Mr. Emanuel argued.

Before leaving Congress for the White House, Mr. Emanuel sponsored a $95,000 earmark for education programs at the Kohl Children's Museum in Chicago. Exhibits include “doll day care,” where children can change diapers, and a discovery maze, a “colorful labyrinth of interconnected pods.”

For Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, the $95,000 earmark seemed to be the rule rather than the exception. Seventy-five percent of Mr. Specter's 186 earmarks were for $95,000. “It seems likely that the senator did not take the time to evaluate these programs and just doled out $95,000 checks,” the Pig Book said.

Even if every one of these projects were jettisoned from the budget, the 2009 deficit would decline by only 1 percent. It would fall from $1.845 trillion to $1.825 trillion, based on estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. Total federal spending would decline by less than one-half of 1 percent.

“Members of Congress say it's not a lot of money, yet they defend their right to spend it this way as if it were the most important thing they do,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.

Mr. Schatz was especially upset over the fact that anonymous earmarks jumped from 20 percent of total pork spending last year to 40 percent, or $7.8 billion, this year. “These anonymous earmarks violate Congress' transparency rules and demonstrate how members still try to hide behind their earmarks and refuse to reveal their relationships with the beneficiaries of pork,” Mr. Schatz said in an interview.

In its “2009 Congressional Pig Book Summary,” CAGW reports that this year's $19.6 billion in pork represents an increase of 14 percent over last year. But it still remains nearly a third below the record of $29 billion, which was achieved in fiscal 2006, when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.

CAGW has been compiling its annual Pig Book since 1991, when pork-barrel spending totaled $3.1 billion.

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