By Walter Alarkon - 08/13/09 05:31 PM EDT
The cost of earmarks increased this year despite lawmakers' claims they're working to reduce pork-barrel spending.
Earmarks, which are inserted in appropriations bills by members in order to fund specific projects, added up to $19.9 billion in 2009, according to an analysis by the Taxpayers for Common Sense and Center for Responsive Politics. Earmarks in 2008 spending bills were worth $18.3 billion.
"At a minimum, earmarks granted to lawmakers' friends and supporters merit scrutiny and indicate potential conflicts of interest," said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
But earmark defenders have argued that the practice is one way they can directly help their constituents. Earmarks accounted for 1.5 percent of the $1.3 trillion federal budget in 2009.
Amid criticism, lawmakers have sought to reduce earmarks and shed more light on how they're requested and awarded. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said they reduced earmark spending in 2008 to below their 2006 level.
For fiscal year 2010 spending bills, Obey and Inouye said that all members must post their requests and explain on their websites why they're important before the requests are considered by appropriators.
President Barack Obama persuaded Congress to keep the $787 billion stimulus free of earmarks, but he signed a $410 billion spending measure in March that included $7.7 billion in earmarks. Obama, when he signed the bill, called for stricter earmark disclosure rules that would require lawmakers to post all their earmark requests on their web sites and direct federal agencies to hold a competitive bidding process for earmarks to private companies.
The earmark study, released Thursday, found that states with smaller populations, and members of Congress on the appropriations panels, were big earmark winners.
Alaska, home of a former appropriator, Sen. Ted Stevens (R), and a current appropriator, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), received more than $331 per person in earmark funds, the most for any state. The states with the next two highest levels of per capita earmark money were Mississippi, home of Sen. Thad Cochran, the top Senate GOP appropriator, and North Dakota, home of Sen. Byron Dorgan, a senior Democratic appropriator.
The member of Congress to win the most earmark money was Cochran, whose earmarks added up to $1.22 billion. They included funds for repairs to hurricane damage at an Army ammunition plant and for construction at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.
The House member with the most earmark money was Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), whose earmarks totaled $217 million. Many of Loebsack's earmarks were also requested by Iowa's two senators, Tom Harkin (D) and Chuck Grassley (R).
Download the study here.