Watchdog Exposes $15.3 Billion in Congressional Waste

Report shows pork-barrel spending for 2019 at largest levels in nine years

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer / Getty Images
June 12, 2019

Congress has stealthily packed $15.3 billion worth of earmarks into its 2019 fiscal year budgets despite its moratorium on the practice, according to a new report.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a Washington, D.C.-based taxpayer-watchdog group, released its annual 'Pig Book' that tracks wasteful spending within the halls of Congress. Sens. Rand Paul (R., Ken.), Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) and Reps. Ted Budd (R., N.C.), Tim Burchett (R., Tenn), Bill Flores (R., Texas), and Tom McClintock (R,.Calif.) joined CAGW's president, Tom Schatz, Wednesday at the Phoenix Park Hotel in D.C. for an event on their findings and the state of earmark reform.

CAGW's investigation discovered more than 280 earmarks that are costing taxpayers a total of $15.3 billion for the current fiscal year, an increase of nearly 22 percent from its 2018 levels. The figures were gathered combing through spending tacked onto appropriations bills and is the largest amount approved by Congress since 2010.

"Dozens of members of Congress from both parties are publicly and privately lobbying for this wasteful and corrupt practice to return," said Schatz. "Pushing pork does not drain the swamp and it won't restore integrity to Washington. One of the best ways to clean up Washington's addiction to waste is for Congress to enact a permanent, statutory ban on earmarks."

The watchdog says that pork-barrel spending has increased drastically from 2017 due to the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, which "obliterated the spending restraints imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act and paved the way for 13.4 percent increase in spending in FY's 2018 and 2019." In 2017, $6.8 billion went towards earmarks, a figure that is 125 percent lower than the current fiscal year.

CAGW highlighted a number of such instances, including $30 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), D.C.'s metro rail system that is notorious for "train derailments, track fires, disabled trains, long delays, and even fatalities." This amount accounts for nearly 60 percent of the money it has received in total earmarks since 2009. D.C.'s metro system has been called a "national embarrassment" and has also been plagued with numerous instances of corruption.

CAGW also draws attention to the likes of $13 million pushed to wild horse and burro management, $12 million that went to the aquatic plant control program, $9 million for a fruit fly quarantine program, and $863,000 for a brown tree snake eradication program, among a number of other items.

"The increase in pork-barrel spending occurs behind closed doors and hidden from taxpayers," CAGW says. "There are no names of legislators attached to each earmark and limited information on where and how the money will be spent."

The Senate GOP last month added a permanent ban on earmarks into their conference rules, a move that Politico reports was done as some on the Hill discussed the eventual return of the practice. Sasse, who strongly pushed for the ban, said that the move could stop an "earmark binge."

The Senate GOP made the move after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) was trying to work with Republican lawmakers in both chambers earlier this year on a deal to bring them back following the expiration of the moratorium implemented in 2011. A number of House Democrats have also said that they will not back the practice despite Hoyer's attempts.

Congress has approved more than 100,000 earmarks that cost nearly $360 billion since 1991, CAGW found.