by ALEC SCHEMMEL | The National Desk
WASHINGTON (TND) — A new investigation from government spending watchdog OpenTheBooks has revealed the massive amount of money congressional lawmakers have tucked into this year’s $1.7 trillion omnibus bill for projects in their districts.
Despite recent annual budget deficits larger than the entire gross domestic product of many developed countries, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are using a little-known measure called “earmarks” to pull money from federal taxpayers for localized pet projects, which, at least in the eyes of many members of Congress, helps them look good in front of their constituents.
An analysis from OpenTheBooks found that within the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill, which Congress is trying to ram through by the end of the week, there are 7,510 congressional earmarks costing taxpayers around $16 billion.
Earmarks have nothing to do with carrying out a limited role of the federal government and everything to do with a currency of corruption for the political class,” CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks, Adam Andrzejewski, told The National Desk (TND).
Explore a map of the OpenTheBooks analysis using the interactive map below.
Often, earmarks are described as legislative “sweeteners,” which create an avenue for lawmakers to bargain – legally – for what they want and don’t want in a bill. This week's omnibus spending bill includes an additional $45 billion in aid to Ukraine, as well as billions for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Earmarks are the currency of corruption in Congress. It’s a legal bribe meant to twist arms and get members of Congress to vote for massive spending bills,” Andrzejewski added.
Seven of the top ten “earmarkers” in this week’s omnibus bill are Republicans, according to OpenTheBooks, including outgoing Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who is set up to take the most in earmarked funds for the second year in a row.
In Texas, Republicans out-earmarked Democrats by $200 million, according to OpenTheBooks.
Other alarming examples of the frivolous spending fostered through earmarking in this year’s omnibus bill include $1 million set aside for California to build a stairway to the ocean for easier beach access and $4.5 million for The Hip-Hop, Gospel and Rock & Roll Museums.
In 2011, after taking the majority in the House, Republicans halted the practice of earmarking, which lasted for a decade. Then, last year, House Republicans voted with Democrats to lift the ban, according to Reuters.
<p style="margin-top: 26px; margin-bottom: 26px; caret-color: rgb(18, 18, 18); color: rgb(18, 18, 18); font-family: "Open Sans"; font-size: 18px;">The move to end the ban came ahead of negotiations over massive spending bills proposed during the pandemic, such as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that was intended to help stimulate a weakened economy.
Fast forward to 2022, Republicans are slated to control the House in the next legislative session. After clinching its new majority in the House, Republicans quickly worked with Democrats to reapprove another year of earmark spending, which ultimately passed with bipartisan support.
Earmarks are the gateway drug to runaway spending bills,” U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, the late Honorary Chairman of OpenTheBooks, once said.
On Tuesday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., announced an amendment to eliminate $9.8 billion worth of earmark spending in the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill.