USA TODAY US Edition
Half of ‘earmark’ spending left intact
GOP stopgap bills trim $5B in pet projects, but critics say pledge broken
WASHINGTON — House Republicans who crafted two short-term spending bills made $5.3 billion in cuts by going after some of Washington’s least popular spending: those congressional pet projects known as “earmarks.”
Even so, a congressional report shows they left $4.8 billion in earmarks untouched — and critics of congressional pork say they should go after it.
“Many in Congress promised taxpayers a full earmark moratorium, not a half moratorium,” says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an earmark opponent who requested the report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. “Protecting nearly $5 billion in earmarks from cuts sends the wrong message to taxpayers.”
Most of the remaining funds that congressmen set aside for pet projects are in defense, military construction and veterans affairs, according to the report last week. They account for $4.1 billion of the $4.8 billion that could be cut.
“There’s no reason defense earmarks should be sacrosanct,” says Steve Ellis, an earmark watchdog with Taxpayers for Common Sense. “In fact, they’re more insidious.”
So why haven’t House Republicans gone after special-interest spending at the Pentagon?
“Clearly, that’s something we’re going to do,” says Jennifer Hing, a House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman.
She says the full-year spending bill — which would have funded the government through Sept. 30 — sought to cut $8.1 billion from defense, including some accounts often used for congressionally favored projects. That bill was rejected by the Senate, leading to the two shorter-term bills. The most recent bill keeps the government running until April 8.
Hing says the short-term bills also attacked congressional projects by declaring that the earmarks in the 2010 spending bills “shall have no legal effect.”
Without also cutting those accounts by the amount of the congressionally directed projects, money could end up going to earmarked projects anyway — “not necessarily because of earmark instructions, but for other criteria,” says the Congressional Research Service report, authored by analyst Jim Monke.
Among the projects in the 2010 defense bill which could continue to receive funding: $31.5 million for the C.W. Bill Young Bone Marrow Donor Recruitment and Research Program, named for the Republican congressman from Florida; $20 million for the World War II Museum in New Orleans, sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La.; and $18.9 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Other untouched earmarked accounts include $697 million at the Department of Transportation — mostly for mass transit and federal highways.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also continues to get funding by earmarks, some of which were requested by President Obama. Ellis says those projects are so heavily earmarked that by eliminating them, “you’d cease to have a corps. That’s the entire agency’s funding.”