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Value of congressional earmarks increased in fiscal 2010

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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Congressional reformers contend that they corrupt the process, and President Obama has vowed to sharply reduce them. But Congress devoted nearly $16 billion to lawmakers' pet projects in their home states and districts last year -- a slight increase in funding over the previous year, although the number of earmarks decreased.

For fiscal 2010, Congress included 9,413 earmarks in the annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government, down from 10,363 in 2009, according to a report released Wednesday by Taxpayers for Common Sense, an independent watchdog dedicated to rooting out waste. Those earmarks accounted for $15.9 billion, up from $15.6 billion the previous year, the group found. That represents less than 2 percent of overall spending appropriated by Congress each year.

Many in Congress defend their constitutional right to allocate federal dollars -- often inserted into legislation at the discretion of a single lawmaker, in what amounts to the issuance of a no-bid contract -- but critics say the practice rewards lawmakers who have influence because of their seniority on appropriations panels.

After a series of scandals involving earmarks, Congress passed rules requiring lawmakers to post every earmark they are seeking on their congressional Web sites each spring. Obama, who sought earmarks in his first two years in the Senate but later disavowed them, has asked Congress to post all earmark requests on one easy-to-search Web site.

In past years, bipartisan support for earmarks was strong, with the majority party traditionally receiving 55 to 60 percent of the total dollar value -- but Republicans have become increasingly critical of the process. Dozens of House Republicans -- including Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) -- now refuse to seek them, and Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has offered legislation to provide a presidential line-item veto to torpedo items deemed wasteful.

With fewer Republicans pursuing the line items, they accounted for 34 percent of the dollar value of earmarks dished out on a partisan basis, down from 43 percent in 2008.

Still, the largest beneficiary of earmarks continued to be a Republican, Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, who took in nearly $500 million in earmarks that he sponsored or co-sponsored. In the House, three of the five largest recipients were Republicans.

Taxpayers for Common Sense analyzed the 12 appropriations bills but was not able to compare the overall work of the House and Senate committees, in part because last year's supplemental funding bills for the wars and other emergencies included hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of earmarks. This year's supplemental bill has not yet been considered.

The biggest pot of money continues to come from bills approved by the House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittees. Members of the House panel -- fewer than 20 lawmakers -- accounted for 13 percent of the earmarks issued by the House, according to the new report.

Many congressional leaders -- including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- are former members of the appropriations committees and continue to collect large sums in earmarks.

That trio collected more than $200 million in earmarks for their congressional districts without any co-sponsors.

A list of the lawmakers who led each chamber in the amount of earmarks requested is at The Post's 44 blog, at washingtonpost.com/44.


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