Opinion

Merry Christmas, Taxpayers!

The demise of the massive omnibus spending bill means about a dozen departing U.S. senators will leave office without their prized pork-barrel spending. Consider it a Christmas gift for the American taxpayer.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled the $1.27 trillion spending legislation late Thursday when it became clear he didn’t have Republican support to pass the bill. With a government shutdown looming, it now appears likely Congress will enact a stopgap measure.

The omnibus, unveiled Tuesday at nearly 2,000 pages, included more than 6,700 earmarks totaling $8.3 billion. It also implemented the first phase of Obamacare at a cost of $1.1 billion.

It would have been a boon to senators leaving office in two weeks. They alone requested more than 800 earmarks costing $1.52 billion. Now that’s an expensive parting gift.

Democrats packed the bill with pork-barrel spending to buy support. But the culture of corruption associated with earmarks was just too great for even big-spending Republicans to embrace it.

As a result, several well-known earmark-loving lawmakers will leave Congress without some of their prized pet projects.

Only two of the 13 departing lawmakers, Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and George LeMieux (R-Fla.), had no earmark requests in the omnibus bill.

The other 11 wanted to bring home the bacon one final time:

• Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) topped the list with 85 earmarks costing $253,649,300. Bennett lost his primary election bid to conservative challenger (now Sen.-elect) Mike Lee. Two of Bennett’s noteworthy earmark requests: $106,000 for the Utah Symphony to do music education and $500,000 for the Utah Medical Education Council to buy a mobile dental unit.

• Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who lost to Republican John Boozman in November, topped all Democrats with 119 earmarks totaling $223,353,000. They included $1.1 million for downtown streetscape improvements in Pine Bluff, Ark., and $250,000 for the Hot Springs, Ark., to acquire in-car video for the city’s police department.

• Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who abandoned the Republican Party and then lost in the Democratic primary, requested 126 earmarks totaling $143,987,000. One of his earmarks would have given $300,000 to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority for a wet weather demonstration project.

• Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) requested 104 earmarks. They added up to $145,968,000 and included $1 million to remove blight at the St. Louis Regional Greenways project and another $250,000 to renovate the historic Sullivan County Building.

• Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) requested 84 earmarks costing $110,060,000. Two notable pet projects: $1 million for advanced photovoltaics array testing at the University of Toledo and $250,000 for the mayor of Cleveland to buy an 800 MHz radio system.

• Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the only outgoing senator to be replaced by a Democrat, requested 90 earmarks totaling $207,588,000. As a parting gift to his state, Dodd wanted to give $1.75 million to the Sea Research Foundation in Mystic, Conn., to cover ocean exploration for at-risk youth, and another $500,000 to Bristol, Conn., to acquire blighted property.

• Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) will leave office with 77 unfulfilled earmark requests costing $164,993,000. They included $600,000 for the Lewis and Clark Legacy Trail and $100,000 for Williston State College to address the workforce shortage in Williston, North Dakota.

• Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who was elected his state’s governor in November, requested 62 earmarks totaling $126,352,000. His biggest prize was a $40 million earmark for a national bio- and agro-defense facility in Kansas.

• Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) will be replaced in January by Sen.-elect Rand Paul, who had the strong backing of tea party activists for his strong stance on government spending. That didn’t dissuade Bunning from requesting 31 earmarks costing $72,257,000.

• Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who served on President Obama’s high-profile debt commission, didn’t turn down the pork for his home state. He requested 33 earmarks totaling $72,180,000.

• And finally, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who retired after growing frustrated with Washington’s ways, requested just one earmark costing $6 million for a reading program administered by the Department of Education.

Two other lawmakers who have already left office -- Sens. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) – could have still wound up with new pork bragging rights. Burris, who replaced President Obama in the Senate following the 2008 election, requested 32 earmarks costing $122,391,000. Kaufman, who took Vice President Biden’s seat, requested 56 earmarks totaling $93,221,000.

After years of earmark outrage from American taxpayers, it’s a relief that Washington politicians won’t be feeding at the trough this Christmas. That will disappoint a few departing U.S. senators and K Street lobbyists, but it’s a step in the right direction to get control of runaway spending.

Robert Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation.

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