Gary Baise Commentaries

Thanksgiving turkeys: How Washington spends your money

The latest list of ways your tax money gets wasted.

It is that time of year again: time to list some of the silly and stupid expenditures of your tax money to ruin your Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) does a great job of highlighting the waste and the culture of corruption that is rampant in Washington. The group published its annual Pig Book summary. As we know, the national debt is now approximately $27 trillion and will be growing rapidly over the next decade. It is estimated by some experts that we will be at $44.2 trillion by 2030.

Notwithstanding this outlook, CAGW highlights how legislators are continuing to pack pork in spending bills. The 2020 Pig Book “…exposes 274 earmarks, a decrease of 2.8 percent from 282 in FY2019. Legislators added $16 billion of earmarks for fiscal year (FY) 2020.

You know what an earmark is, right? It’s originally a livestock term, “where the ears of domestic animals were cut in specific ways so that farmers could distinguish their stock from others grazing on public land,” says Wikipedia. In politics it’s a provision inserted into a discretionary spending appropriations bill that directs funds to a specific recipient while circumventing the merit-based or competitive funds allocation process. We also know it as pork barrel spending.

CAGW claims it has highlighted 111,417 earmarks costing $375.7 billion.

Why more earmarks?
The reason we have the increase in earmarks is that the Budget Act of 2018 allowed a major increase in spending for FY 2018 and 2019. The bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 that covers 2020 and 2021 lifted spending caps by approximately $320 billion.

President James Monroe, in 1882, said “It is, however, my opinion that the [spending] power should be confined to great national works only, since if it were unlimited it would be liable to abuse and might be productive of evil.” How insightful President Monroe was in 1822.

CAGW sets forth seven criteria when it chooses a blatant example of pork barrel spending. The appropriation must be 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.

Of course, agriculture and the rural development area are the first listed by CAGW. The first turkey identified by CAGW is USDA’s Rural Electrification Administration which is now Rural Utilities Service (RUS). Since 2002, Congressmen from Alaska and Hawaii have added energy cost grants to Alaska and Hawaii plus U.S. territories of $153 million.

Remember, the Jones Act is still in effect since the 1920s; it requires all energy fuels be shipped into Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories on U.S.-owned or manned ships. The RUS High Energy Cost grants go to areas where the energy costs “…exceed 275 percent of the national average by funding the construction, installation, and repair of energy distribution facilities.”

In 2013 even President Obama proposed eliminating this program.

CAGW claims $9 million is given to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA). President Trump has attempted four times to eliminate funding for these pork projects. The ARC was created by Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to assist 13 Appalachian states. The money goes to Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The ARC has received “…13 earmarks costing $404.8 million since FY1995…”

Poverty is still a major issue in Appalachia and CAGW believes the funding has achieved little.

The Commerce, Justice and Science area is also a major “pork” recipient as is Defense, both of which will not be covered in this blog. EPA is not covered in 2020 by the Pig Book but Energy and Water appropriations were flooded with money.

In 2020 47 earmarks exceeded $3.4 billion.

There were 25 earmarks for the Corps of Engineers. Since FY 1996 Congressional members have added “…6,973 earmarks for the Corps, costing taxpayers $15.8 billion.” Almost $40 million is earmarked to control aquatic plants. Since 1994 there have been 26 earmarks worth over $94 million to control aquatic plants.

The legislators requesting these earmarks for plant control include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D, NY, and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee Patrick Leahy, D, VT. Knowing the aquatic plant control in Lake Champlain bordered by both New York and Vermont, I am sure it will please you and help you digest your turkey meal comfortably. Happy Thanksgiving.