By Adam Andrzejewski
Last Friday, Congress continued skirting normal budget processes and passed another massive, $1.7 trillion omnibus bill to fund the U.S. government through the end of the fiscal year. The spending smorgasbord clocks in at $1.7 trillion and more than 4,100 pages. Included are $16 billion worth of earmarks – 7,500 member pet projects doled out to legally bribe legislators for their votes.
Overall, Democrats earmarked $9.1 billion, Republicans earmarked $6.4 billion, and bipartisan groups of legislators earmarked an additional $476 million.
What Are Earmarks?
Dubbed the ‘currency of corruption in Congress,’ earmarks allow federal legislators to set aside specific sums of money for local projects in their states or districts. The practice was banned for a decade due to abuse. However, last year and again this year, House Republicans held secret caucus meetings and voted to join Democrats in reinstituting the practice.
If a local project can’t get state or local funding, then why are federal taxpayers picking up the tab? That means federal tax dollars from one state head out the door to fund pork in another.
Former U.S. Senator Dr. Tom Coburn called earmarks “the gateway drug to runaway spending bills.” This omnibus legislation was a great example of the bipartisan combine – the fleecing of America.
The top earmarking members were mostly Senate Republicans – seven of the top ten.
In the U.S. Senate, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) were the Chairman and Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee. Both of them retired at the end of the session — but not before Shelby earmarked $50 million for the University of Alabama, his alma mater and the site of his announced Senate archive. Leahy, too, earmarked $30 million for the University of Vermont – also the site of his Senate archive.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) bragged about securing $64 million for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project, a billion-dollar boondoggle that the feds were considering pulling the plug on.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) helped bring home $300 million in earmarks to Maine – including $3.5 million for the Irish Heritage Center, $3 million for a community center in Auburn, $2.5 million for a police station in Caribou, and nearly $1 million for a YMCA in Auburn-Lewiston.
In fact, things were much the same in the U.S. House. For example, the Republican delegation from Texas out earmarked their Democrat colleagues $500 million to $300 million. In Florida, Republicans out earmarked Democrats $450 million to $250 million.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) earmarked almost $30 million for her district, and incoming Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) earmarked $15.8 million.
Presumptive Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) refrained from earmarking, but the #2 and #3 Republicans, Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), earmarked $35 million and $28.9 million, respectively. Included was Stefanik’s earmark of $1 million for the YMCA in Silver Bay.
Local projects of merit should be funded locally and not with federal taxpayer money. Why are taxpayers in Oklahoma funding earmarks in, for example, Chicago?
Case in point is Chicago’s Field Museum, which received two earmarks totaling $3.5 million. In the latest IRS disclosures, their CEO made $1.1 million, and the organization disclosed net assets of $600 million. They simply don’t need taxpayer help.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) earmarked $3.75 million to renovate a Chicago YMCA and Rep. Chuy Garcia – who is running for Chicago mayor – earmarked $3 million for the Puerto Rico Cultural Center. In rural Illinois, Darin LaHood (R-IL) earmarked $2.1 million for streetscaping in the city of Downs (pop. 1100).
What Kinds of Projects Are Being Funded?
Earmarks are typically intended to go towards infrastructure projects like building bridges and paving roads, and while some do, there are countless examples of taxpayers’ dollars being exploited for pet projects.
In California, $1 million was earmarked for a stairway in Mondo Cove Beach to help surfers find their way to the waves. Additionally, the University of California school system, whose endowment currently totals approximately $20 billion, received $11 million in earmarks.
Ten random examples of taxpayer abuse using earmarks in the omnibus bill:
- $8 million spent on two $4 million earmarks by Rep. Mfume and Sens. Cardin and Van Hoffer (D-MD) to the Arena Players – a for-profit theater organization in Baltimore—to renovate their dilapidated building.
- $5 million to the Universal Hip Hop Museum in New York through two earmarks of $2 million and $3 million by Sens Schumer and Gillibrand.
- $3.7 million by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) to Nashville, where his brother, John Cooper, is the mayor.
- $3.6 million for the creation of the Michelle Obama Trail in Georgia by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).
- $3 million to the New York Historical Society/ LGBTQ Museum Partnership by Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
- $3 million to the Memphis Zoo for their parking lot.
- $2.95 million to Columbia University – an Ivy League college with a $13.3 billion endowment.
- $2 million to the National Great Blacks Wax Museum in Baltimore, MD by Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD).
- $1 million to the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH.
- $750,000 to increase education for catch and release fishing in Florida by Rep. Murphy.
There’s a new pandemic and it’s bipartisan runaway spending. It’s fueled by corrupt spending schemes such as the practice of earmarks.
Future prospects of fiscal sanity don’t look promising. Even with a Republican House majority in January, The Combine looks to be in firm command and control of federal budgeting and appropriations.
The American people are the poorer for it.