Some in GOP Denounce Pork, Others Pile It Up

Posted April 2, 2008 at 6:56pm

While Republicans denounced earmarks Wednesday, a government watchdog group said two veteran GOP lawmakers were the largest “porkers” in Congress last year.

House Republicans tried and failed Wednesday to force a vote on an earmark freeze during a motion to recommit. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Democrats are “just not serious about reforming the way Washington spends taxpayer dollars.”

Boehner highlighted the vote by tying it to the Citizens Against Government Waste’s release of its annual Pig Book, detailing what it called egregious pork projects. At a press conference, the group pointed out that Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a former House Member, and Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) were the top pork-barrelers in their respective chambers.

The group said pet projects rose by $4 billion last year, to $17.2 billion, despite the new law that requires Members to attach their names to earmark requests.

“When Congress adopted earmark reforms last year, there was hope that the number and cost of earmarks would be cut in half. By any measure, that has not occurred,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz, who was joined at the event by earmark opponents, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

According to CAGW, Alaska and Hawaii were the top two recipients of per capita pork for the second straight year. Alaskans took home $556 in earmarks per person, thanks mostly to the work of another Republican, former Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, who ranked second in Senate totals for earmarks. Alaska received more money in earmarks than all but three states, despite being 48th in population. Rounding out the top five in per capita pork were North Dakota, West Virginia and Mississippi.

The top seven Senate earmarkers were all members of the Appropriations Committee, including Cochran, No. 1 at $892 million, and Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), No. 5 at $386 million.

In the House, nine of the top 12 earmarkers were appropriators. Wicker led with $176 million in earmarks, and another Republican, Rep. Bill Young (Fla.), ranked second with $170 million. Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) was No. 6 at $140 million, while Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) ranked 14th at $98 million.

CAGW took potshots at several projects, including Rep. Virgil Goode’s (R-Va.) appropriation of $98,000 to develop a walking tour of Boydton, Va. — a town with a population of 454 that covers 0.82 square miles. (“That’s a lot of money for a short walk,” the book states.)

“As long as this book is this thick,” DeMint said, holding up the Pig Book, “the American people are not going to trust us to spend their tax dollars.”

Meanwhile, a Senate GOP Task Force set up by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will brief members of the Republican Conference on a series of consensus recommendations for earmarks that could form the basis of the Conference’s formal position.

The four-member task force, led by Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), has met for weeks and has maintained tight control on what recommendations it was considering.

Several sources said the proposal will include new disclosure requirements such as requiring all earmark requests to be posted in a searchable format online 48 hours before the Appropriations Committee begins work on the bill and expanding conflict of interest disclosure rules that would require staff members to disclose any benefits they or their family members would receive from an earmark. A “full justification” provision would require Members to identify the primary beneficiaries of an earmark as well as explain why the recipients are worthy of receiving federal funding and to disclose whether the funding will be used in a competitive bid process.

The proposals will include a recommendation that all earmarks be included in the text of a bill rather than a report so they can be challenged on the floor and that the savings from any earmarks stripped from a bill would go toward paying down the federal debt. Republicans also said the group would recommend that the same rules apply to executive branch earmarks included in the annual budget.

Although the full Republican Conference is expected to ultimately endorse the package of recommendations, McConnell has not yet decided how he will proceed. One GOP leadership aide said some of the changes –– such as posting requests online –– could be done through a voluntary agreement of the GOP Conference, while other provisions will ultimately need a rule change. According to this aide, McConnell will likely take the next several weeks to work with members of the task force and other Republicans to iron out the details on how to implement the proposals before pushing for any formal rule changes.