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Members of Congress are bringing home the bacon

Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the Congressional Pig Book, members of Congress overturned the 2011 earmark moratorium and formally restored them in fiscal year (FY) 2022. 

This means for the first time in 12 years, taxpayers will know more about which members of Congress are bringing home the bacon and were deserving of Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) “Oinker” awards. 

The 2022 Congressional Pig Bookexposes 5,138 earmarks, an increase of 1,702.8 percent from the 285 in FY 2021, at a cost of $18.9 billion, an increase of 18.9 percent from the $15.9 billion in earmarks in FY 2021. Since FY 1991, CAGW has identified116,816 earmarks costing $411.4 billion. 

Like they did before the moratorium, earmarks disproportionately benefited leadership and those with spots on prime congressional committees. In FY 2022, the 89 members of the House and Senate appropriations committees, making up only 17 percent of Congress, were responsible for 41.1 percent of the earmarks and 29.1 percent of the money. As the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) explained regarding those making the case for earmarks, “The problem with all their arguments is: the more powerful you are, the more likely it is you get the earmark in. Therefore, it is a corrupt system.” 

Proving his point, Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) received by far the highest dollar amount of earmarks, for which he was given “The Prince of Pork Award.” His 16 earmarks cost $647,936,000, which is $270,437,000 (71.6 percent) more than the legislator in second place, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), who received six earmarks costing $377,499,000, including the largest single earmark costing $350,000,000, for which he received “The Whopper Award.”

Three more senators were in the top five: Senate Appropriations Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who received 31 earmarks costing $361,193,000; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who received 205 earmarks costing $316,024,824; and Senate Appropriations Committee member Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who received 48 earmarks costing $313,265,000. These five members of Congress together received $2,015,917,824, or 10.7 percent of the FY 2022 earmarks.

The new system of earmarking benefited senators far more than representatives, as the top 50 earmark recipients by dollar amount featured only two legislators from the lower chamber, and Democrats far more than Republicans. There were 273 Democrats, or 99.3 percent of the 275, who received 5,435 earmarks totaling $8,510,474,770, while 120 Republicans, or 45.8 percent of the 262, received 1,320 earmarks costing $4,952,024,395. Because multiple legislators often requested the same earmark, the combined individual totals exceed the total number and dollar value of earmarks attributed to members of Congress in the bills. 

Like the earmarks prior to the moratorium, states with smaller populations got a disproportionate amount, especially if they had members on powerful committees. Alaska ($337.07 per resident) received the most pork per capita, calculated as dollars in earmarks relative to population, followed by Vermont ($312.51 per resident), Hawaii ($182.12 per resident), West Virginia ($164.28 per resident) and Maine ($142.38 per resident). Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia were in the top three every year between 2008-2010. 

The 2002 Congressional Pig Book includes $240,000,000 for the M1 Abrams upgrade program, which is opposed by the Pentagon and received “The Tanking the Taxpayers Award”; $3,000,000 for the Palo Alto Museum by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who received “The Let Them Eat Cake Award” since the city has a median annual household income of $174,003$1,000,000 for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra by Senate appropriator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who received “The Sour Note for Taxpayers Award”; $650,000 for feral swine management by Senate appropriator John Boozman (R-Ark.), who received the “The Don’t Step in it Award”; $500,000 for preservation of the Nansen Ski Jump Historic Site in Milan, N.H., by Senate appropriator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who received “The Snow Job Award”; and $150,000 for and oyster aquaculture and restoration initiative at the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit group with net assets of $7.9 billion, by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who received “The You Cannot Be Serious! Award.” 

The members of Congress who restored earmarks willfully ignored or forgot why this corrupt, costly, and inequitable practice was first subject to the moratorium. The movement gained traction due to the tireless work of members of Congress who publicly shamed their colleagues; high-profile boondoggles like the Bridge to Nowhere; and a decade of scandals that resulted in jail terms for Reps. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

There is some hope for taxpayers. On June 22, 2022, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced S. Res. 688, expressing opposition to earmarks and calling for them to be permanently banned. This resolution and other efforts to eliminate earmarks should gain traction once taxpayers have a chance to absorb the porky details of the 2022 Congressional Pig Book.  

Tom Schatz is president of CAGW.

Tags Brian Mast Budget earmarks Lindsey Graham Richard Shelby Roy Blunt

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