WASHINGTON – A war and a recession did not stop Congress from doling out the pork for special hometown projects, a government watchdog reported Tuesday.
Citizens Against Government Waste released its annual "Pig Book," a listing of what it calls the most egregious examples of special interest spending.
The results are grim, but not surprising, group officials said.
"Taxpayers will be disappointed," said Thomas Schatz, president of CAGW. "Here they are, sitting around doing their taxes — a good time to be thinking what they’re getting for their money, and in this case it’s a pretty bad deal."
But congressional spender defenders say the report is again lumping all appropriations projects together with no discretion, and at closer look, many of them are indeed serving an important purpose for the nation's security and economic survival.
"There is excessive spending out there, and it is important to root it out wherever possible, but this broad brush stroke pulling every project out of the appropriations report — that's inappropriate," said Seth Boffeli, a spokesman for Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
"It's such a small piece of the pie," about 0.7 percent of the total federal budget, charged John Scofield, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee.
That doesn't matter to CAGW, who said members of Congress should set an example by tightening their belts in light of the economic downturn and the war against terrorism.
Pork — that is, excessive spending for members’ pet projects, which usually grease the skids for special interest and hometown support — increased 9 percent in fiscal year 2002 to $20 billion. The number of pork projects increased 32 percent to a total of 8,341.
For the second year in a row, Alaska led the nation in pork with $451 million in spending, followed by Hawaii with $353 million, and West Virginia with $215 million — all thanks to powerful members on the Senate Appropriations Committee, CAGW said.
CAGW categorizes more than 600 pet projects in the "2002 Pig Book" by committee and says every project meets one or more of the following criteria: they are unauthorized or unsupported by the president, proposed by only one member, and serve one special interest, are unhindered by any congressional hearing and are not competitively awarded.
Some of the latest "Pig Book" installments include:
— $62.4 million for commerce projects in Alaska, home of Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Republican Ted Stevens, including $750,000 to prevent Atlantic salmon from escaping state streams and $4 million for sea lion recovery projects.
— $23 million in agricultural projects for the state of Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., including $800,000 for imported red fireants.
— $268 million in defense projects in the state of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, including $1 million for an alternative fuel program for the Hickman Air Force Base and $2 million for the state National Guard anti-drug program.
— $80 million for energy and water projects in the state of Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., including $7 million for a positron emission tomography facility at West Virginia University.
— $78.5 million in labor and health and human services projects in Iowa, home of Labor/HHS Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, including $100,000 to encourage children to hold fairs displaying their inventions and $3 million for the Iowa Communications Network.
Schatz said he is tired of hearing members of Congress squabble over anti-terrorism funding requested by President Bush.
"We would not have to go looking for that money if we didn’t have all of this pork — which is the greater priority right now in the minds of Congress, war or pork?"
Boffeli argued that the projects named in the book under Sen. Harkin's name were left undescribed and misrepresented as pork. Take the $40 million animal disease center in his home state of Iowa, he said.
"The national animal disease center in Ames is the foremost center of its kind in the U.S and the only one equipped to deal with the wide range of animal diseases in the country," including so-called mad cow disease, he said.
"Especially after September 11, when we are under the threat of bioterrorism, this is more important than ever," he said. "To say this is for the interest of one state is very shortsighted, this is a national security interest, frankly."