Pork Goes to War

by Thomas Schatz

March 30, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor

EMERGENCY spending bills are called "
Christmas trees,” for the unrelated “ornaments” that are added by members of Congress. (They are exempt from budget rules and are almost never vetoed, making them magnets for pork.) The nickname is usually not literal, but the Senate’s version of the fiscal 2007 supplemental appropriations bill that passed yesterday includes, among scores of other nonessential items, money for Christmas-tree growers.

Behind all their lofty rhetoric about the Iraq war and bringing home the troops, members of the House and Senate were busy tacking on $20 billion and $18.5 billion respectively in unrelated spending to President Bush’s $103 billion request. (He intends to veto the bill.)

Despite their campaign talk about earmark reform last fall, the new Democratic leadership shamelessly used pork to buy votes — before the vote, Representatives Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Peter DeFazio of Oregon acknowledged that add-ons for their districts would influence their decisions.

The heavyweights also led by example: the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, added $20 million to eradicate Mormon crickets, and David Obey of Wisconsin, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, came away with $283 million for the Milk Income Loss Contract Program.

This chart (PDF), which is a partial list of some of the most egregious earmarks, shows that the new bosses are already feeding at the trough, and “war pork” threatens to sink their fiscal credibility.

Thomas Schatz is the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit group in Washington.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company