Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Republicans’ Use of Pork-Barrel Earmarks Shows the DC Swamp at Its Worst

It should surprise no one that the summer in the nation’s capital brings with it stagnant, stultifying heat. Into that scene come House Republicans, who seem insistent on showing why Washington remains a swampy cesspool for all those who value limited government, and not just on hot July days.

The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call analyzed the number of earmarks — or, to use the politically correct euphemism, “community project funding” — included in the appropriations bills House Republican leaders have introduced. The breakdown demonstrates the way in which many members of the new House majority have sidled up to the pork-barrel trough, a display that should anger taxpayers upset by the rampant overspending within the federal government.

Not Committed to Lowering Spending

The Roll Call piece makes clear that Republicans have little interest in cutting spending on pork projects in their districts. A party that not so long ago banned earmarks in Congress now wants to cash in on these parochial projects:

House Republicans have so thoroughly stacked the earmarking deck in their favor in appropriations bills for the coming fiscal year that the top Democratic recipient doesn’t even appear in the top 60 among lawmakers in that chamber.

All told, the appropriations bills released by House leaders include 4,714 earmarks (no, that’s not a typo) totaling over $7.4 billion in federal spending. While Democrats requested nearly two-thirds of the earmarks, they received 38 percent — that’s “only” $2.8 billion, for those of you following at home — of the dollars dedicated toward member projects.

The list of House Republicans receiving earmarks for their districts runs the ideological gamut. Rep. Garrett Graves, R-La., a leadership acolyte of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., ranked in the top 25 when it comes to earmarks granted in his district, as did House Freedom Caucus members Andy Harris, R-Md., and Ben Cline, R-Va.

Give McCarthy credit on one front. He may have cut an incredibly bad deal on the debt limit with President Biden this spring, but at least he did not request any projects for his district in California’s Central Valley. On this at least, McCarthy seems willing to walk the talk when it comes to spending restraint, even if he wouldn’t or couldn’t persuade his Republican colleagues to do the same.

Cut the Fat

In fairness, some might argue that the earmarks included in House Republicans’ spending bills will actually help to lower overall expenditures within the federal government. Because Republicans have an incredibly slender majority and are trying to pass bills that can get 218 House Republican votes (i.e., not have to rely on Democrats for passage), one theory holds that including member-directed projects will help to get overall buy-in for the lower spending levels, easing floor passage of the bills.

But to paraphrase Chief Justice John Roberts’ axiom regarding racial discrimination, the way for Congress to lower spending is for Congress to … lower spending. Adding in nearly 5,000 earmarks totaling over $7 billion won’t reduce spending one bit — it increases it. This type of wasteful federal spending also perpetuates inflation at a time when families have been getting kicked in the teeth every time they go to the grocery store or fill up their gas tanks.

And then there’s this not-so-hypothetical question. If and when House Republican leaders cave and agree to the higher spending levels in the Senate’s version of the spending bills, what chance do you think that lawmakers will take out the pork-barrel projects that may help “grease the skids” for the lower overall spending levels to pass the House floor? I’m not holding my breath.

Skyrocketing Debt

In response to Democrat complaints that Republicans monopolized earmarks upon regaining the majority, Roll Call noted, “Republicans argue that’s only fair; Democrats gave themselves roughly the same percentage when they were in charge.”

But it isn’t fair — not to taxpayers, anyway. And certainly not to the next generation of Americans, who already face over $32 trillion in federal debt (and rising). Our nation has enough fiscal problems without spending billions of dollars more on Teapot Museums and Bridges to Nowhere.

It demonstrates the power of the D.C. swamp, where politicians put their own reelection and “bringing home the bacon” over protecting the country’s fiscal integrity. So the next time a Republican lawmaker tries to tell you that Washington is taking real steps to control reckless federal spending, remind him or her that there are 4,714 reasons to believe otherwise.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.