Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) announced that, beginning with the 2008 budget, the committee will adopt a new policy that is designed to make pork barrel spending more transparent and visible to the public eye. “The changes that we are making in the appropriations process will help to restore confidence in the Congress. We are ending ‘business as usual’ in Washington, D.C. We will restore integrity to the process. We will increase accountability and openness, while we also will work to substantially reduce the number of earmarks in legislation,” Byrd said.

Until the Ethics and Earmarks Reform legislation is signed into law, the committee has developed a series of standards that they will follow. Each earmark will be clearly identified in committee bills and reports. The identification will include the name of the senator making the request, the amount of the request, the recipient of the funds, and the purpose of the funds. An earmark will also be defined by the new standards established in the Ethics and Earmarks Reform legislation. Third, all committee bills and reports will now be published on the Internet. Lastly, all senators will have to certify that neither they nor their spouses have any financial interests in any earmark requests that they make.

Pork barrel spending is a term that is used to categorize the federal dollars a legislator brings back to their home district or state to finance pet projects. According to the group, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), 2007 marks the end of seven consecutive years of record breaking pork barrel spending. Often the funding for these pet projects would be anonymously buried inside huge appropriations bills. In 2006, according to the CAGW, pork barrel spending reached $29 billion.

The CAGW uses the broad definition of pork as any funding that was not requested by the president. I prefer more of the smell test when deciding what pork is. The most famous recent example of pork was the, “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. Republican Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) used his power as chair of the appropriations committee to get $223 million in federal funding for building a bridge that would connect an Alaskan island with 50 residents to the main land. Only after a great public outcry was the project shelved.

As Majority Leader Newt Gingrich used pork barrel spending as a way to build consensus, and solidify his majority in the House, but under Republican control, the practice continued to grow until it became a wasteful monster. I, for one, am glad that the Democrats are back in control of Congress and are at least trying to do something about this problem. Don’t get me wrong, some Democrats are just as guilty as some Republicans, but the important thing isn’t whose fault it is, but that both sides work together to get this spending under control. There is a difference between bringing money for needed projects home and political waste. A little bit of pork will always find its way into appropriations, but $29 billion was just way too much.

Senate Appropriations Committee press release on new earmark standards

CAGW 2007 Pig Book

 

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