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SAUNDERS: This potbelly pig says just say no to pork

WASHINGTON — Overspending has been such a part of the fabric of the nation’s capital that the fiscal-watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste has gone through a number of pig mascots.

Poppy the potbelly pig attended a CAGW press conference Wednesday to mark the release of its “2024 Congressional Pig Book,” which exposes billions in dubious spending via congressional earmarks. CAGW calls the pink pamphlet “The Book Washington Doesn’t Want You to Read.”

As Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican and rare skinflint politician in the town that math forgot, explained, the 8,222 earmarks exposed this year represent projects so unnecessary that sponsors don’t “dare spend their own taxpayers’ money, but they’re perfectly happy to have taxpayers in other communities foot the bill for them.”

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., summed up the practice, saying, “Earmarks are used to buy bad votes for bad bills.”

The tab for these earmarks this fiscal year: $22.7 billion, according to CAGW.

Both political parties look bad. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is the top earmark spender — followed by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Angus King, an Independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

CAGW gave Collins “the Whole Hog Award” while its “You Cannot be Serious Award” went to Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, for granting $1.7 million to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, even though, CAGW protests, the Gotham landmark held assets of $5 billion last year.

To qualify for the Pig Book, a project must check at least one of these boxes — requested by only one chamber of Congress, not specifically authorized, not competitively awarded, not requested by the president, funded in excess of POTUS’ spending plan or the previous year’s funding, not the subject of congressional hearings or serve only a local or special interest.

Under such circumstances, the results are not optimal. As then Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James stated in 2015, “The biggest lesson I have learned from the F-35 is never again should we be flying an aircraft while we’re building it.”

Overall Dems took advantage of earmarking opportunities by a much larger margin than Republicans, according to CAGW — 99.6 percent versus 62.4 percent.

Some readers may recall the days when Washington could boast a small but hearty band of fiscal hawks reliably ready to take on big-spending boondoggles. Political giants like one-time GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma fought pork barrel profligacy and made senators who sponsored said projects squirm.

It was Coburn who famously dismissed earmarks as “the gateway drug to Washington’s spending addiction.”

Stories about a $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska inflamed public opinion against the practice. The heat was sufficiently intense that Washington did away with the practice for a decade, only to see it re-emerge in 2021.

This new Pig Book shines the spotlight on 8,222 earmarks. Since 1991, President Thomas Schatz said, CAGW has identified more than 130,000 earmarks that cost $460.3 billion.

Since the mid-1990s, Communications Director Alexandra Schatz Abrams tells me, CAGW has used at least six pigs and piglets. Poppy was preceded by, among others, Faye and Annabelle, Rudy and Churchill.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-AZ, blamed the media for rewarding members with positive coverage “when they bring home the bacon.” They’re not giving away their money, Lesko warned. “That’s our money.”

Contact Review-Journal Washington Columnist Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow @debrajsaunders on X.

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