Congressional 'Pig Book' reveals billions in pork-barrel spending

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Citizens Against Government Waste unveiled its annual Pig Book, a review of what it considers wasteful government spending with highlights including $39 million for fighting underwater pests, $16.7 million for a center the State Department has been trying to shut down for years, and $2 billion toward fighter planes not requested by the Defense Department.

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Those are among the 274 earmarks included in the Pig Book, down from last year, but at a higher, record-setting cost.

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“Legislators added $15.9 billion in earmarks in FY 2020, an increase of 3.9 percent from the $15.3 billion in FY 2019,” the book says in its introduction. This, despite a supposed moratorium on congressional earmarks.

In order to qualify, a piece of spending must meet at least one of seven criteria: being requested by only one chamber of Congress; not being specifically authorized; not competitively awarded; not requested by the president of the United States; greatly exceeding the president’s budget request or the past year’s funding; not discussed as the subject of congressional hearings; or serving only a local or special interest.

Many of these earmarks addressed wildlife concerns specific to a particular area. $65 million went toward Pacific coastal salmon recovery, which was the same amount in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, tied for the largest earmark ever for it. In addition to that, $663,000 went to a brown tree snake eradication program in Guam, $11.4 million for fish passage and fish screens — up 44.3 percent from last year’s $7.9 million, and $25.8 million for wild horse and burro management.

“Wild horses couldn’t drag members of Congress away from this wasteful spending,” the book says.

Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste, noted during a video news conference that the nature of these earmarks means that they were done “behind closed doors without taxpayers knowing what was going on.”

Another $16.7 million went to Hawaii’s East-West Center. According to the Pig Book, the center was created in 1960 without any congressional hearings. The State Department opposed it from the start and has been trying to eliminate it by not seeking funding for it during annual budget requests. A similar North-South center stopped receiving funds in 2001.

Among the biggest entries in the book is the more than $2 billion for five earmarks for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, the second-most ever earmarked for that particular program. Most of this went toward the acquisition of 22 aircraft beyond what the Defense Department requested.

Schatz said that the JSF project had been over budget, nine years behind schedule, and was “the most expensive weapons system in history.”

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The National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs (NCACA) grant program was the beneficiary of $5 million in the largest earmark the program has ever received, up 78.6 percent from 2019’s $2.8 million. The NCACA gives money to arts and cultural institutions in Washington, D.C. such as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Ford’s Theatre.

In 2019, the Kennedy Center received $450,730.26. The Pig Book pointed out that since the center sold 1,545,922 tickets during the 2018-2019 season, it could have earned that same amount by raising ticket prices by just 30 cents per ticket and would not have needed the NCACA money.

Ford’s Theatre could have raised prices by just 17 cents per ticket and equaled the $106,756.91 it was granted through the NCACA.

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The billions in pork-barrel spending come at a time when the U.S. is facing a coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis that has led Congress to spend trillions in relief packages. With this spending taking place during a supposed moratorium on earmarks, some lawmakers are supporting a bill, the Earmark Elimination Act, to take stronger action.

“The only way to really end this pork-barrel spending in Washington is to pass a law,’ Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., said Wednesday at the Pig Book’s unveiling. “Every taxpayer dollar is sacred and we should really start treating it that way.”

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