Last week, Congress advanced another enormous “omnibus” spending bill — a catch-all bill designed to keep the government funded without going through the normal budget process and making responsible spending decisions. Unfortunately for taxpayers, both parties are up to their old tricks: the $1.7 trillion bill is stuffed with 7,510 earmarks for pet projects lawmakers want to brag about in their home states and districts.
In effect, earmarks are legal bribes doled out to members of Congress in exchange for their support of these large, irresponsible spending bills that are rushed through without much scrutiny. Earmarks are the currency of corruption in Congress and as the late Sen. Tom Coburn said, “the gateway drug to runaway spending bills.” (RELATED: HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Republicans Can Thank The Federal Gov’s Bungled Census For Their Razor-Thin House Majority)
These new earmarks will rack up $16 billion in costs to we the taxpayer, and the money will be allocated to pet projects rather than where it’s best spent and most needed — the core functions of the federal government.
No, instead of core functions, we’re on the hook for $20,000 to upgrade a National Park Service bathroom in Murphysboro, Illinois. That’s just a tiny example. Chicago’s Rep. Jan Schakowsky knows how to leverage favors to the hilt, earmarking $3.75 million to renovate a local YMCA and $2 million for a new park district pool.
Overall, Illinois will sap up $560 million in earmarks in this one piece of legislation. But the problem is certainly bipartisan. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, long known for being skilled at bringing home federal cash, has $489 million to be spent in her home state. In Alabama, Sen. Richard Shelby can tout $656 million over 17 projects, the most of any senator for the second year in a row.
Not coincidentally, the retiring Shelby is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, tasked with making such funding decisions.
Year over year, the problem is worsening. The House of Representatives logged over 50% more earmarks — 4,700 — versus in 2022 when that number was 3,000. Of course, the number of earmarks ought to be zero, with most of these projects funded at the local level or pending a review by the relevant agency.
This latest earmark extravaganza comes at a time when there’s widespread agreement that pumping more federal dollars into the economy has been the root of the historic inflation. Yet here we have members of Congress considering this spending bill a win.
To make bad news worse, things won’t get better when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi puts down the gavel and Republicans take control of the House. Just a few weeks ago, the House Republican caucus held a secret, closed-door meeting where 158 of them voted to keep embracing earmarks as a practice. It’s so bad that Texas Republicans went hog wild and out-earmarked Democrats $500 million to $300 million in the latest omnibus bill.
So, it won’t stop without some outside intervention. That’s where OpenTheBooks.com comes in. As government spending watchdogs, our organization quickly moved to log every single earmark in the bill and organize it into a searchable database. With a few mouse clicks, every American can now identify the pork-barrel spending happening in their neck of the woods and call it out.
We have to hold the political class accountable for their tax-and-spend decisions, and it will take widespread action from taxpayers to put an end to the earmarks addiction once and for all. Too often, politicians only break bad habits when they are caught in the act and exposed.
Now, we can do it right from our computers.
It’s time to tell Congress: get back to normal budgeting, not temporary bills stuffed with special favors.
Adam Andrzejewski is CEO and Founder of OpenTheBooks.com, the largest private database of U.S. public sector expenditures.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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