By Adam Andrzejewski
Pork is back on the table in Congress. Critics say that bringing back earmarks was the equivalent of bringing back Swine Flu.
This week, the U.S. House posted online 3,309 earmarks proposed by 324 members of Congress. The taxpayer cost of these new projects amounted to $9.7 billion.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com mapped each earmark by congressional district. Just click a pin (member district) and scroll down to see the earmarks rendered in the chart beneath the map.
The list was compiled from member websites where they were required to post their appropriation and infrastructure earmarks. There were 220 Democrats and 104 Republicans who embraced the “member directed spending.”
Review the rankings of all 324 members requesting earmarks here. Since 2011, Congress banned earmarks because of systemic corruption. Recently both parties decided to resurrect the practice.
Democrats requested 2,338 earmarks for $4.94 billion. Republicans requested 971 earmarks for $4.7 billion. Six of the top seven members requesting the most earmarks and 14 of the top 25 were Republicans.
We found member pet projects included:
- a $5,000 earmark to purchase “Santa gifts” for seniors in Beech Grove (Rep. Andre Carson D-IN);
- $250,000 to expand the offerings at the Michelle Obama Library including workshops, events, and other programs (Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan D-CA);
- $300,000 for a new dog park in Montebello (Rep. Linda Sanchez D-CA);
- $500,000 for the Trenton Artwork Project – lighting and murals along a pedestrian and bike path (Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman D-NJ);
- $1.2 million for the “Canandaigua Trolley” (Rep. Chris Jacobs R-NY);
- $3.5 million to build “fish market(s)” in St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands (Del. Stacey Plaskett D-VI);
- $7.7 million for the Tampa Street Car project (Rep. Kathy Castor D-FL);
- $18.6 million to rebuild the fire station in Kodiak, Alaska (Rep. Don Young R-AK);
and a lot more.
Even Big Brother gets an earmark. A $250,000 request for the Tracy Police would install 15 new license plate readers to track every vehicle at “all main entry and exit points of the city, major commercial areas, and “hot” intersections that have high traffic volume” (Rep. Josh Harder D-CA).
Our auditors found what House Democrats and Republicans consider “essential” spending of your tax dollars:
- $4 billion earmarked for states, cities, villages, and county government projects. Recently, these localities already received $350 billion through the American Rescue Plan. Earmarks included $400,000 to the City of Harvey in Illinois to demolish 40 vacant homes.
- $159 million on 119 earmarks for homeless services including $42 million to build housing for the California homeless in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles, Oakland, etc.
- $52 million on 52 earmarks to combat the effects of climate change including $2 million to establish the “Virginia Climate Center” at George Mason University (Rep. Gerald Connolly D-VA) – to “increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.”
- $40 million for museums including a $3.75 million request by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) to upgrade the Waukegan Carnegie Museum through the local park district. In fact, there were 29 earmarks with the word “museum” in the description and requests included a new $6.4 million Gandhi museum (Rep. Al Green D-TX); $2.2 million for the new Bahamian Museum of Art & Culture in Coconut Grove (Rep. Frederica Wilson D-FL); and $792,000 to repair the New England Motorcycle Museum (Rep. Joe Courtney D-CT).
People of goodwill can debate each of these goals, but is it truly the purpose of Congress to fund the projects on the local wish list?
Former U.S. Sen. Dr. Tom Coburn described earmarks as the currency of corruption in Congress. Every project is an opportunity for congressional leadership to bribe a member with a project for their vote.
However, Republicans could push back on the Democratic earmarks for gender, equity, and other social issue related “infrastructure” earmarks.
For example, a $1.5 million earmark requested by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) will likely include gender reassignment surgery. From the earmark request:
“There are not enough local healthcare providers in Rockland County who provide the full spectrum of health and wellness needs for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ ) patients…”
A spokesperson confirmed: "Congressman Jones believes that health care is a human right and is committed to affirming that right for all Americans, including LGBTQ people, who are less likely to have access to culturally competent medical care."
Green New Deal earmarks proposed by Democrats included $20 million in electric vehicle charging stations. Other earmarks included millions of dollars for “battery buses” in Illinois ($3.5 million); Honolulu, HI ($3.7 million); Atlantic City, NJ ($1.5 million); Michigan ($2.4 million) and many other places.
Democrats could push back on Republican “infrastructure” earmarks regarding unnecessary federal funding of plum projects.
For example, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) earmarked $2 million for two new YMCA’s – in Ottawa and Joliet; and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) requested $2.5 million to build a new nursing school at the private Milliken University in Decatur.
A couple weeks ago, 102 Republicans secretly voted to join the Democratic proposal to bring back earmarks. Now, there are 104 Republicans requesting earmarks from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
We found limited examples of bipartisan earmarks.
One example, two Texas members, Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R) and Rep. Colin Allred (D), proposed $570 million in upgrades at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport included fixing bridges, utility plants, snow and ice control, and rescue abilities. These were some of the biggest requests.
During the past few decades, Republicans and Democrats have helped drain the U.S. Treasury from the left and the right. Our national debt increased from $10 trillion (2008) to $19.6 trillion (2016) to $23.6 trillion (2020) and stands at $28 trillion today.
Continuing earmarking pet projects and bloated legislation will only drive the national debt much higher.
We reached out to every member for comment and will update the piece if there is a response.