Congress rang up bills totaling $2.7 billion for more than 100 pet projects in the 2014 budget despite the ban on earmarks, according to a watchdog group which keeps tabs on wasteful government spending, The New York Times reported.
The amount of taxpayer money pushed through by various lawmakers – mostly Democrats – was revealed in research by the Citizens Against Government Waste, which called its report the "Pig Book," referring to the "porkers" who employ pork-barrel politics, according to the Times.
After a series of questionable deals between lawmakers and lobbyists in the past few years including the Alaska "Bridge to Nowhere," Congress issued a moratorium on earmarks
But Congress has found a way around the ban on pork, which help politicians on Capitol Hill endear themselves to their constituents, with a practice known as lettermarking or phonemarking.
The practice, which involves smaller and more discreet sums of money so the favors are less noticeable, consists of bills that include funds without a specific program attached to them. Later, a government agency is directed by individual lawmakers to attach a program to the money, the Times said.
The 109 pet projects attached to the budget included $130 million to promote democracy around the world which the Obama administration did not seek; $90 million for a fast-moving Abrams tank the Pentagon doesn't want; $866 million for health and disease research in the military seeming to duplicate civilian research; and $45 million aimed at preventing cross-border drug trafficking but directed mostly to non-border states.
"After only four years on the wagon, it appears that many members of Congress feel a compelling need to once again drink from the trough," Thomas Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said on Wednesday, according to the Times.
Schatz stood alongside GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and John McCain of Arizona, as well as a person dressed in a pig costume, while revealing the porkers in Congress.
They included several Democratic members of appropriations committees, such as Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Dianne Feinstein of California, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Tom Udall of New Mexico.
The Republicans on appropriations committees who were singled out included Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Sen. Brian Schatz, the Hawaii Democrat was also named along with his predecessor Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died in 2012.
Cruz lashed out at the earmarkers, saying, "That’s how you go from $10 trillion to $11 trillion to $12 trillion to $18 trillion" in government debt. "That’s how you bankrupt this country."
However, there was some good news from the watchdog organization – the $2.7 billion in "waste" so far this year has plunged from a record $29 billion in 2006, and was well below the $16.5 billion in the year before Congress banned earmarking, according to the Times.
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