Here's a man-bites-dog story: Spending on congressional pet projects is actually down this year.
The government watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste publishes each year the "Pig Book", documenting the billions of dollars Congress spends on pet projects inserted into the spending bill by individual members of Congress. This year's Pig Book shows that spending on these projects, known as earmarks, is 15 percent lower this than last year.
And earmark spending is down 40 percent from 2006, when the Republican-controlled Congress spent a record-high $29.5 billion on earmarks.
"While everything else in Washington is going up rapidly, Congress has managed to reduce the number and costs of earmarks," said Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
That doesn't mean Congress has kicked the habit entirely. The 2010 Pig Book documents 9,129 earmark projects at a cost of $16.5 billion.
Some of the priciest items are in the defense budget, including $465 million for an F-35 jet engine the Pentagon says it doesn't need.
The largest earmark this year is an anonymous request for $2.5 billion for 10 C-17 military transport aircrafts.
The Pentagon's budget also includes $20 million for a World War II museum, inserted by Louisiana's two senators, Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, and the district's Republican congressman Ahn "Joseph" Cao. The Pentagon didn't ask for the museum funding, but supporters say it will honor veterans and bring tourists to New Orleans.
Also tucked into the defense budget are items that have nothing to do with war, including $18.9 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Study of the Senate in Boston, inserted by the state's congressional delegation and the late senator's good friend, Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Supporters say it will be one of the nation's pre-eminent educational institutions and will include a replica of the Senate floor.
All told, the defense budget included a $6 billion on Congressional earmarks and comprised more than half of all earmark spending this year.
There were also other questionable earmarks, such as $4.8 million for wood utilization research in 11 states. Such research, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, has cost taxpayers $100 million since 1985.
In the House, lawmakers added $17 million for the International Fund for Ireland, an independent international organization established in 1986 to tackle the causes for violence and "build reconciliation" between people in Ireland. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill last year to cut funding for the organization.
Earmarks include money designated for specific projects that don't have to go through the regular competitive process required for other federal spending. They have become increasingly controversial in recent years because of the rising federal deficit and the economic situation.
Of the total 9,129 earmarks designated for fiscal year 2010, about 60 percent in spending was inserted by Democrats, and 40 percent by Republicans.
The Pig Book crowns Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, as the King of Pork. For the third year in a row he was -- by far -- the biggest earmarker of all.