US Lawmakers Negotiating Over 7,500 ‘Pork-Barrel Spending’ Earmarks Totaling $16 Billion for Spending Bill

US Lawmakers Negotiating Over 7,500 ‘Pork-Barrel Spending’ Earmarks Totaling $16 Billion for Spending Bill
The US Capitol building in Washington, on Dec. 20, 2020. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
Bryan Jung

Congress is negotiating more than 7,500 “pork-barrel spending” earmarks totaling $16 billion for a year-long omnibus spending bill.

The annual fiscal spending bill, which is meant to keep the federal government funded, will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, in September 2023.

A ban on earmarks was instituted in the House of Representatives since 2011, when Republicans controlled the chamber; but House Democrats recently revived them last year, with provisions to increase transparency.

House Republicans Cave on Earmark Spending, Outraging Fiscal Conservatives

However, the House Republicans voted to retain earmarks for annual spending bills after they won a slim majority in the midterm elections, outraging fiscal conservatives.
The $16 billion in proposed pork barrel spending projects for next year currently dwarfs the $9.7 billion in earmarks passed through the fiscal spending bill for 2022, reported Bloomberg.

Members in both houses are now attempting to negotiate a deal and avoid a year-long stopgap measure that would not include earmarks for lawmakers’ favorite pet projects.

The caving of House Republicans on earmarks is a significant victory for caucuses and members in swing districts, but a defeat for conservatives intent on reining in spending to reduce the federal deficit and waste.

Fiscal conservatives lost an earlier 158–52 closed-door vote at the GOP conference on Nov. 30, giving Republican leaders the power to bring spending bills to the floor that contain local funding for members’ favorite projects, reported Bloomberg.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) told Bloomberg that he opposed the decision on earmarks because he remembered “the bad old days” when it was abused by members for personal gain, and he believed that his peers were swayed by an argument that Congress members need to take back control of spending decisions.

“There’s an argument saying, look we do have certain things that have federal nexus, how do you do that open and transparent?” Schweikert said.

“But it can’t be buying a museum for someone to curry favor in the district.”

Certain retiring senators would be among the “biggest winners” if a deal on the omnibus was agreed upon, such as Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who got $213 million in earmarks; Vice Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), with $656 million in earmarks; and Senate Armed Services ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), with $511 million in earmarks, Bloomberg Government reported.

Earmark Appropriations Surge for Fiscal Year 2023

As noted, the general omnibus framework agreement includes over 7,500 earmarks totaling $16 billion in 2023 appropriations bills that could make it into the overall annual spending package, reported Bloomberg Government.
The omnibus spending package comprises 12 separate appropriations bills, which span more than 2,500 pages of text, according to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Bloomberg Government reported a total of 3,123 earmarks from the Senate, which will cost taxpayers $7,780,973,000, and 4,386 earmarks totaling $8,231,999,565 from the House, in next year’s appropriations bills.

Both chambers have proposed a combined 7,509 earmarks totaling $16,012,972,565.

However, the total of earmarks are slightly less than 1 percent of the roughly $1.7 trillion government spending bill that lawmakers expect to pass before the end of the year, Bloomberg reported.

Lawmakers in both parties reached a compromise in 2022, by agreeing to apply a 1 percent cap on new earmarking after it was revived for the fiscal package that year.

The Congressional Research Service defines earmarks as a benefit to “a specific entity or state, locality, or congressional district other than through a statutory or administrative formula or competitive award process.”

They consist of spending provisions or “pork” that members of the House and Senate attach to bills that are likely to pass and signed into law.

Many lawmakers enjoy adding earmarks into bills for projects in their districts, but they also have the reputation of being abused as a reward for members’ key donors and special interests.

Congressional leaders also like the use of earmarks to convince members of their caucus to vote with the party line by providing favors for their districts or states back home.

“If Congress extended all spending in the current Continuing Resolution for the remainder of FY2023, the U.S. would spend $1.707 trillion in discretionary spending,” wrote Romina Boccia of the Cato Institute in October.

“Add to that the $4.2 trillion (without subtracting off‐​setting receipts) in mandatory spending the Congressional Budget Office projects for FY2023, and the federal government is projected to spend nearly $6 trillion this year.”

“And even these staggering figures likely understate next year’s federal spending footprint since they do not account for spending by the CHIPS Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, nor the most recent student loan forgiveness by executive order.”

House Passes Short-Term Funding Measure to Avoid Last-Minute Shutdown

The House approved a stop-gap spending measure on the evening of Dec. 14 to extend funding for federal agencies through Dec. 23 and avoid a partial government shutdown.

The final vote was 224–201, with nine House Republicans joining Democrats, giving Congress further time to craft a larger annual spending package.

Republican leaders in the House opposed the stop-gap legislation, calling it an “attempt to buy additional time for a massive lame-duck spending bill in which House Republicans have had no seat at the negotiating table,” reported CBS News.
“This Continuing Resolution is a simple date change that keeps the government up and running as we negotiate the details of final 2023 spending bills,” announced the Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, a Democrat.

“I am encouraged by the agreement we have reached on a framework that provides a path forward to enact an omnibus next week. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working around the clock to negotiate the details of spending bills that will be supported by the House and Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for the Senate to “act quickly” after the temporary measure passed in the still Democrat-controlled House.

“Congress now has a roadmap for funding the government before the conclusion of the 117th Congress, something the large majority of us want to see,” said Schumer. “We still have a long way to go, but a framework is a big step in the right direction.”

Breitbart noted that there is a chance that if lawmakers fail to strike a deal on an omnibus package and decide to push the compromise into next year when the retiring lawmakers exit Congress, many pork barrel spending provisions could be removed after the new Congress comes into session.

However, several Republican senators have accused own their leadership of caving to Democrats to avoid a government shutdown before the holidays without reviewing the annual spending bill.

“I don’t see any reason why Republicans should jump to [Democrats’] aid,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told The Washington Times. “They can’t do this without at least 10 Republicans in the Senate. I don’t know why any Republican, let alone 10, would want to help them.”