Questionable spending returns with revival of congressional earmarks

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Congressional candidates make all sorts of promises to win elections, then find out how little power they actually have once they arrive in Washington.

As a result, they do what they can, where they can, usually by using earmarks.

One example is the tax code, which is so loaded with special exemptions and incentives that just reading it is a lifetime occupation.

Earmarks were a hot topic during the waning days of Sen. Ben Nelson's service in the nation's capital, with then-House Speaker John Boehner imposing a moratorium on them in 2011.

Boehner is gone, and so is the moratorium.

According to the new Congressional Pig Book published by Citizens Against Government Waste, the cost of earmarks has increased by 21 percent, thanks to those new members of Congress desperate for something to show the folks back home.

The M1 Abrams tank -- which replaced tanks like the M60 guarding McCook's Barnett Park -- enjoys widespread congressional support because it is assembled in the politically important state of Ohio and has suppliers spread across the country.

An earmark commits $40 million to upgrade the M1 Abrams.

The only problem is, the Army has thousands of them parked in the desert and says it doesn't want or need the upgrade.

The report also blasts the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a $1.5 trillion project designed to meet the needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marines.

The project is four years and $170 billion over budget, and was essentially redesigned as it was being built, one of the most wasteful ways possible.

It requires two versions of engine, one for the vertical takeoff and landing version and one for the versions without that capability.

It would have had a third choice if earmark proponents would have had their way, but that alternative engine was finally axed in 2011.

The book also blasts expenditures such as $56.6 million for an anti-drug trafficking effort designed for border states, but since diverted to include eight other non-border states; $5.9 million for a facility in Hawaii to promote better relations in Asia and the Pacific, and a program to produce algae-based biofuel for the Navy that ended up costing $400 a gallon.

To make the Congressional Pig Book, an expenditure meets at least on of the following criteria:

* Requested by only one chamber of Congress;

* Not specifically authorized;

* Not competitively awarded;

* Not requested by the President;

* Greatly exceeds the President's budget request or the previous year's funding;

* Not the subject of congressional hearings; or

* Serves only a local or special interest.

Convincing arguments can be made for all of the earmarks listed in the Pig Book, but radical change is needed before there can be any hope of reining-in and reversing a culture of wasteful spending in Washington.

Read a summary here.

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