Congressional Pork Exposed

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - War may be hell, but for Congress, war can also mean new opportunities to load the federal budget with pork.

The group Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has come up with prime examples - $350,000 for sweet potato research in Stoneville, Miss., $631,000 for alternative salmon products in Alaska, $4,214,000 for shrimp aquaculture research spread across several states - that it says are part of a record amount of federal tax dollars being spent on congressional pork.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism, pork spending is on the rise, according to CAGW. The total of $22.5 billion for Fiscal Year 2003 is 12 percent higher than the $20.1 billion in 2002, according to CAGW's latest annual "Pig Book."

"Members have used the war on terrorism, Sept. 11, the war in Iraq as an excuse to spend more money," said Thomas A. Schatz, president of CAGW.

"It costs about a million dollars to replace a Tomahawk cruise missile," noted Schatz. But one million is the same amount we're spending on oyster recovery in South Carolina, on marsh restoration in New Hampshire, on a Berring sea crab project in Alaska and on brown tree snakes in Hawaii, said Schatz.

"The obvious point is that Congress is failing to make the choices between pork and national security," he added.

The Porker of the Year honor goes to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), placed second. Their spokespeople did not return calls seeking comment.

California, the biggest state in the union, gets more pork than any other state, followed by Texas, Washington, South Carolina, Alaska and Hawaii. Telltale signs of pork, as measured in the Pig Book, include spending items requested by only one chamber of Congress; not specifically authorized; not competitively awarded; not requested by the president; greatly in excess of the president's budget request or the previous year's funding; not the subject of congressional hearings; or serving only a local or special interest.

"I think we have so much [pork] because members of Congress see that as a good way to get re-elected," said Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican.

Flake recounted one meeting of the House Republican Conference in which a member said that she couldn't refrain from seeking pork projects if the congressman in her neighboring district was bringing home lots of federal dollars for his home district.

The solution, Flake and Schatz believe, is for taxpayers to contact legislators and voice opposition to omnibus spending bills loaded down with unnecessary projects.

Flake also suggested that the House adopt rules placing a moratorium on such spending; abide by existing rules that allow members to object to spending above and beyond previously approved amounts; vote against pork-laden omnibus bills; and pressure House leaders to give members a minimum of three days to review spending bills - not just the four hours they got this year.

The Senate is the worst pork offender, observers agree, in part because the senators' six-year election cycle renders them less accountable to voters.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently introduced an amendment to strip pork out of the president's emergency supplemental war budget. The McCain effort garnered just 39 votes.

The Congressional Budget Office projects a $246 billion budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2003, not including future or imminent tax cuts or spending increases.

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