Lobbying scandals and a staggering federal budget deficit haven’t dampened Congress’ appetite for questionable pet projects, as lawmakers will spend a record $29 billion on “pork” this year, a watchdog group said on Wednesday.
At a press conference featuring real pigs, Citizens Against Government Waste highlighted projects it said were especially egregious: $1 million for water-free urinals, $500,000 for a North Carolina teapot museum and $100,000 for a boxing club in Nevada.
Others included $550,000 for the Museum of Glass in Washington state, $250,000 for the National Cattle Congress in Iowa and $500,000 for the Arctic Winter Games in Alaska.
The group’s annual report, known as the “Pig Book,” covers the fiscal year ending September 30, during which the U.S. government could rack up a deficit of around $400 billion.
Lawmakers seeking to boost their re-election prospects include spending measures for their home districts in the massive spending bills that keep the government running.
Such “earmarks” are often added at the last stages of the legislative process to bypass the normal scrutiny applied to federal spending.
“We’re not saying all these projects are bad. We are saying they haven’t gone through a legitimate process,” said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a longtime critic of Congress’ free-spending ways.
ALASKANS BENEFIT MOST
The watchdog group said the total number of pork-barrel earmarks in the 2006 budget declined 29 percent to 9,963, but their total cost increased 6 percent to $29 billion.
However, the House Appropriations Committee says spending on these special projects declined to about $17 billion this fiscal year, down $2.8 billion from the previous year.
The group’s figures could be higher because it includes as “pork barrel” spending any projects passed by Congress that have not been requested by the president.
The money is not distributed evenly across the country. While Alaska took home $490 per capita in pork spending, lawmakers from Georgia only wrangled $12 per citizen, according to the group’s report.
Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens was for the fifth year in a row responsible for the most amount of pork — a total of $325 million last year, the group said.
A Stevens spokeswoman declined comment.
Stevens was at the center of a nasty Senate fight last year when some senators publicly ridiculed his “bridge to nowhere” that connected the port town of Ketchikan to a neighboring island populated by 50 people. The $223 million for the quarter-mile (0.5-km) bridge was removed from a spending bill.
Citizens Against Government Waste touts itself as “America’s number one taxpayer watchdog.” But it accepts corporate contributions, and an offshoot of the group has lobbied on behalf of special interests including the tobacco industry.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan)