As runaway spending pushes the cost of government over $20,000 per household and the federal budget deficit past $400 billion, Congress continues to pile an endless supply of special interest projects onto the backs of weary taxpayers. With the recently-passed fiscal 2005 omnibus spending bill (H.R. 4818), Congress is expected the break its own record-set in last year's budget-for pork projects, with new grants for such items as therapeutic horseback riding and a school mariachi music curriculum. This performance is simply embarrassing and highlights the need for reform of Congress's obviously broken budget process.
Historically, Congress funded grant programs and then asked federal agencies, governors, and mayors to award the grants competitively to the most capable applicants. But over the past few years, Congress has increasingly bypassed these agencies, governors, and mayors and selected grant recipients on its own. Thus, the Franco-American Heritage Center and the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame have been chosen by Congress this year to receive earmarks, the legislative term for pork projects. No longer do grant seekers simply submit persuasive grant proposals to unbiased agencies. Now, they must master the Washington influence game and hire lobbyists to win federal funds.
Predictably, an entire lobbying industry has emerged to secure pork projects for those willing to pay for their services. Organizations and local governments seeking federal money can choose between dozens of powerful lobbying firms who effectively trade campaign contributions for earmarks.
Auctioning pork projects to the highest bidder reduces the number of merit-based grants distributed by federal agencies, governors, and mayors. These shortages, in turn, induce Congress to expand merit-based programs-and then earmark those new funds as well. Consequently, the number of pork projects skyrocketed from under 2,000 six years ago to 10,656 in the 2004 budget. Total spending on pork projects has correspondingly increased to over $23 billion.
Some in Congress still maintain that this year's appropriations process was notable for its restraint. "This is a lean and clean package that adheres to the budgetary limits agreed to by the Congress and the president," said Rep. Bill Young, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "We have resisted many requests for additions to the package that would have busted the budget by billions of dollars."
Somehow, however, a few pork projects did manage to slip into this year's bills, which may top 11,000 earmarks-a new record. The just-passed fiscal year 2005 omnibus appropriations bill, which combines the nine appropriations bills that have not yet been enacted, includes the following pork projects:
Brian Riedl is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs, and Keith Miller is a Research Assistant, in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.