'Tis The Season of 'Pork': Congress Gifts $4B in Earmarks

Lawmakers Defy Budget Woes, Include 5,000 "Pet Projects"

ByABC News
December 11, 2009, 3:43 PM

Dec. 11, 2009— -- Just weeks before returning to their districts for Christmas, Congress is poised to give the gift of pork – roughly $4 billion of it.

More than 5,000 earmarks were included in the $447 billion omnibus spending bill passed yesterday by the House, funding "pet projects" of key members of Congress from both parties and all regions of the country. The Senate will vote on the bill this weekend.

Watch Jonathan Karl's report on "World News" tonight at 6:30 ET.

"We should be embarrassed by this process," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., of the bill which is under consideration by the Senate. "People are out of jobs, out of their homes. Unemployment in my state is 17 percent. And we're going to spend money on things like $2.7 million for supporting surgical operations in outer space?"

Independent analyses of the bill reveal a whopping 12 percent increase in government spending for 2010 while the inflation rate in the country remains near zero.

"This Congress has not shown that they are at all serious about the budget deficit in any way," said Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation. "The spending spree is continuing even as the deficit escalates to $2 trillion."

The earmarks are all explicitly listed in the bill – right next to the members of Congress who inserted them: $800,000 for jazz at New York's Lincoln Center, for Rep. Jerold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Harkin, and Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, got $750,000 for exhibits at the World Food Prize Hall in Iowa. Hawaii Democratic senators Dan Inoye and Daniel Akaka helped get $3.4 million for a rural bus program in Hawaii.

"The country needs to be tightening its belt, just like the rest of America," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Republicans have criticized the spending package, but many Democrats say it funds key priorities.

"By focusing on our economy, workers, small businesses, and veterans, this legislation will put Americans back to work and help build long-term and broadly-shared prosperity," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., of the measure.

But Democrats are not the only ones stuffing the 2010 appropriations bill with special funding requests.