Pork barreling on: Report shows ‘pork barrel’ spending continues rise

Citizens Against Government Waste brought a pig to a Capitol Hill hotel to help publicize their annnual “Pig Book” report highlighting congressional spending on pork barrel projects. (Photo by Joe Gilmore/Cronkite News)

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, backed by lawmakers, activists – and a person in a pig costume – at the release of the 2017 Congressional Pig Book, which showed pork barrel spending continues to rise. (Photo by Joe Gilmore/Cronkite News)

Thomas Schatz, president and CEO of Citizens Against Government Waste, said the group has found more than 110,000 earmarks since 1991 totaling $329 billion, but that spending keeps rising. (Photo by Emma Lockhart/Cronkite News)

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, called on voters to pay attention to the examples of congressional earmarks cited in the annual “Pig Book” and to hold lawmakers accountable for them. (Photo by Emma Lockhart/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Despite the “tireless work” of Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, the number and cost of pork-barrel projects have continued to rise, jumping by over 30 percent this year, a new report says.

The 2017 Congressional Pig Book Summary released Wednesday by Citizens Against Government Waste said there are 163 congressional “earmarks” in the fiscal 2017 federal budget, a 32.5 percent increase from fiscal 2016. The report said those earmarks cost taxpayers $6.8 billion, a 33.3 percent increase in costs from the previous year.

Citizens Against Government Waste President Thomas Schatz said the report has identified more than 110,000 earmarks that cost $329 billion since the report first came out in 1991.

“Members of Congress who say, ‘Oh, it’s just a few million dollars,’ it’s not. It adds up quickly,” Schatz said.

He said his group has seven criteria it uses to identify an earmark, which he called “a project that goes into the appropriations bill without hearings, without competition, without authorization.”

One of the biggest examples of pork-barreling cited in this year’s report was $1.02 billion for four earmarks to fund support and maintenance for F/A-18 and F-16 fighter jets, which are scheduled to eventually be replaced by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

And while spending money on planes slated to be retired, the report raised questions about the F-35 itself. That program is well over budget and has been challenged by lawmakers like Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, the report notes, who “questioned whether the F-35 will exceed the performance of the (far cheaper) A-10 in close-air support for troops on the ground.”

Another example comes from $10.4 million to the Heritage Partnership Program which supports 49 National Heritage Areas.

-Cronkite News video by Emma Lockhart

The Senate currently has a moratorium on earmarks and the House does not. Despite the work done so far, speakers at Wednesday’s report release said a permanent ban on earmarks is still needed.

“We’d like to see a permanent ban instead of having to go every couple of years and include it in the rules,” Flake said. “We have a ban on earmarks now, we ought to stick to it. That will protect the taxpayers and the Treasury.”

The news conference was briefly interrupted by a protester who began berating Flake for “cutting green jobs in the state of Arizona” before he was quickly escorted out of the conference.

Flake and McCain have long been opponents of pork-barrel spending and both were praised Wednesday for their “tireless work” to gain traction for the earmark moratorium. Rep. Mark Walker, R-NC, said of Flake that he “walks the walk, just doesn’t talk the talk.”

Schatz noted that Flake has been to every pig book release since 2005 and called him “one of the top leaders in the House and Senate in the fight against earmarks.”

McCain was scheduled to be at Wednesday’s event, but is home in Arizona recuperating from surgery last week to remove a blood clot over his eye. But Schatz said he was not forgotten.

“Sen. McCain has been fighting against earmarks for many years, he fought very lonely battles on the floor of the Senate,” Schatz said. “His colleagues didn’t want him up there talking about earmarks.

“He is really the main reason why there is a moratorium on earmarks. Sen. McCain has never stepped back in this fight against earmarks in Congress,” Schatz said.

Flake said voters need to help in that fight.

“This is important work that’s done here with the Pig Book,” he said. “I encourage you all to read it and to make sure that we legislators are kept honest in this regard.”