Fiscal Promiscuity?

compiled & edited by Daniel Hagadorn

With a seemingly insatiable appetite for taxpayer dollars, it would appear that Congress has forsaken their solemn obligation to the People to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and in particular, the sections that restrain their spending.

SOURCE: Rascal

Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to spend:

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”

But the 10th Amendment explicitly limits the application of that power:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Inexcusably, in a grotesque contortion of constitutional authority, modern politicians have claimed this power to justify congressional earmarks.

For instance, Senator Larry Craig [R-ID] and Representative Mike Simpson [R-ID] have both argued that eliminating earmarks would equate to an unconstitutional delegation of spending discretion to the executive branch.[1] Senate Majority leader Harry Reid [D-NV] asserted that earmarking has been going on “since we were a country.”[2] A spokeswoman for the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates even went so far as to claim that, “Earmarking has been going on since the time of George Washington.”[3]

Baseless and historically inaccurate statements aside, our Framer’s believed that the 10th Amendment clearly limited the scope of congressional spending to the pursuit of those powers specifically enumerated [expressed] in the Constitution—with ALL other responsibilities entrusted to the states and the people. In fact, America’s history is replete with examples of the Framer’s constitutional objections—from members of Congress, the president, and state legislatures—to using federal funds for localized spending.

John Eastman highlights a few examples from the early Congresses that demonstrate this point:[4]

…The First Congress rejected a bill to loan money to a glass manufacturer after several members challenged the constitutionality of the proposal.

…During the Second Congress, a protracted debate occurred over a bill to pay a bounty to New England cod fishermen. The bill was ultimately approved ONLY AFTER it was amended to clarify that the payment was merely a refund for unconstitutional taxes that had been collected and NOT a bounty, which was thought to be unconstitutional.

Representative Hugh Williamson of South Carolina, a Federalist, argued that the word “general” in the Spending Clause was a limitation on federal power, which made it “[unconstitutional] to gratify one part of the Union by oppressing another. Establish the doctrine of bounties; set aside that part of the Constitution which requires equal taxes, and demands similar distributions; destroy this barrier;—and it is not a few fishermen that will enter, claiming [$10,000-$12,000], but all manner of persons; people of every trade and occupation may enter in at the breach, until they have eaten up the bread of our children.”

…The Fourth Congress even rejected as unconstitutional, efforts to provide disaster relief to the people of Savannah, Georgia, after a fire had destroyed the city.

…Thomas Jefferson raised similar objections when he challenged President James Madison’s proposal to improve the roads used for national mail delivery:

“Have you considered all the consequences of your proposition respecting post roads? I view it as a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress & their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money. You will begin by only appropriating the surplus of the post office revenues; but the other revenues will soon be called into their aid, and it will be a scene of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get most who are meanest.”[5]

…In 1817, it would appear that Madison heeded Jefferson’s advice when he vetoed a public works bill that would have funded the construction of roads and canals. To Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” the clause “to provide for common defense and general welfare” did not grant Congress additional powers not enumerated in Article I, Section 8.[6]

…In 1822, President James Monroe argued that federal money should be limited “to great national works only, since if it were unlimited it would be liable to abuse and might be productive of evil.”[7]

…In 1825, the South Carolina legislature passed a resolution which condemned “the taxing of the citizens in one state ‘to make roads and canals for the citizens of another state.’ ” Virginia and Georgia adopted similar resolutions in 1827.[8]

…During the late-1800s, President Grover Cleveland was dubbed “king of the veto” for rejecting hundreds of congressional spending bills during his two terms in office. His vetoes were frequently accompanied the words, “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.”[9]

Even Alexander Hamilton—who interpreted the general welfare clause more broadly as a separate grant of power—believed that that power was nonetheless limited to matters of “general” or national welfare, NOT merely local or regional welfare. This distinction between national and local matters was designed to preserve the lines of political accountability since the Constitution delegates to the national government ONLY those matters of “general” [shared, legitimately national concerns] while leaving the residual balance of power to the states and local governments, where its exercise would be subject to closer supervision by the people.[10]

Despite the expansion of federal power during the 20th century, Congress did not begin earmarking extensively until the 1980s. Instead, Congress typically funded general grant programs while allowing federal and state agencies to select individual recipients through a competitive process or formula. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees named specific projects only after they had been properly vetted and approved by authorizing committees. Members of Congress with local concerns were urged to lobby the president and federal agencies for consideration to both prevent abuse and to allocate resources on the basis of merit and need.

Today, Appropriations Committee members arbitrarily pick winners and losers by earmarking funds for specific recipients. Consequently, rank and file members—financed by an army of lobbyists—typically bypass authorizing committees and lobby appropriators directly for pet projects.

These pet projects are often identified interchangeably as either “earmarks” or “pork,” but there are important distinctions to consider. The term “earmark” generally refers to any expenditure for a specific purpose that is added to a larger bill. Only when the earmark is inappropriately included in a bill is it considered pork—a line-item in an appropriations or authorization bill that designates funds for a specific purpose in circumvention of the normal procedures for budget review.

It is from this second definition that the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) developed seven criteria for identifying such earmarks, colloquially referred to as “pork-barrel spending”:

  • Requested by only one chamber of Congress
  • Not specifically authorized
  • Not competitively awarded
  • Not requested by the President
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding
  • Not the subject of congressional hearings
  • Serves only a local or special interest

To earn the CAGW designation of “pork-barrel spending,” at least one of the above seven criteria must be met, although most items satisfy at least two of the requirements.

The following list[11] illustrates the sort of fiscal promiscuity that has become sadly characteristic of the federal government’s spending habits. Please bear in mind that Congress does not have a second job at Taco Bell or a “Magical Money Tree” planted behind the Capitol building. Every dollar they spend is yours and mine.

  • In 1991, the U.S. Congress spent $3.1 or $4.8 billion (2009 USD) on 546 pork projects.
  • In 1992, the U.S. Congress spent $2.6 or $3.9 billion (2009 USD) on 892 pork projects.
  • In 1993, the U.S. Congress spent $6.6 or $9.6 billion (2009 USD) on 1,712 pork projects.
  • In 1994, the U.S. Congress spent $7.8 or $11.1 billion (2009 USD) on 1,318 pork projects.
  • In 1995, the U.S. Congress spent $10 or $13.9 billion (2009 USD) on 1,439 pork projects.
  • In 1996, the U.S. Congress spent $12.5 or $16.9 billion (2009 USD) on 958 pork projects.
  • In 1997, the U.S. Congress spent $14.5 or $19.2 billion (2009 USD) on 1,596 pork projects.
  • In 1998, the U.S. Congress spent $13.2 or $17.2 billion (2009 USD) on 2,143 pork projects.
  • In 1999, the U.S. Congress spent $12 or $15.3 billion (2009 USD) on 2,839 pork projects.
  • In 2000, the U.S. Congress spent $17.7 or $21.8 billion (2009 USD) on 4,326 pork projects.
  • In 2001, the U.S. Congress spent $18.5 or $22.4 billion (2009 USD) on 6,333 pork projects.
  • In 2002, the U.S. Congress spent $20.1 or $23.8 billion (2009 USD) on 8,341 pork projects.
  • In 2003, the U.S. Congress spent $22.5 or $26.1 billion (2009 USD) on 9,362 pork projects.
  • In 2004, the U.S. Congress spent $22.9 or $25.8 billion (2009 USD) on 10,656 pork projects.
  • In 2005, the U.S. Congress spent $27.3 or $29.7 billion (2009 USD) on 13,997 pork projects.
  • In 2006, the U.S. Congress spent $29 or $30.8 billion (2009 USD) on 9,963 pork projects.
    In 2007, the U.S. Congress spent $13.2 or $13.6 billion (2009 USD) on 2,658 pork projects.
  • In 2008, the U.S. Congress spent $17.2 or $17.1 billion (2009 USD) on 11,610 pork projects.
  • In 2009, the U.S. Congress spent $19.6 billion (2009 USD) on 10,160 pork projects.

Collectively, from 1991 to 2009, the U.S. Congress spent [read wasted] $342.6 billion (2009 USD) on 100,849 pork projects.

Highlights (or Lowlights if you prefer) of FY 2009, 2008, and 2007…

FY 2009…

Generally, $9.4 million was secured for 14 pork projects for “bike paths and trails,” while $4.5 million was secured in 10 states by 19 senators and 10 representatives for “wood utilization research.”

  • U.S. Senator Thad Cochran [R-MS] secured $653 million in total pork projects.
  • U.S. Senator Robert Byrd [D-WV] secured for $9.5 million in pork projects for “Corridor H.”
  • U.S. Senator Pat Roberts [R-KS] secured $2 million in pork projects for “the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program.”
  • U.S. Representative Chris Shays [R-CT] secured $1.9 million in pork projects for “the Pleasure Beach water taxi service project.”
  • U.S. Senator Tom Harkin [D-IA] secured $1.8 million in pork projects for “swine odor and manure management research in Ames, Iowa.”
  • U.S. Senators Carl Levin [D-MI] and Debbie Stabenow [D-MI], and U.S. Representative Carolyn Kirkpatrick [D-MI] secured $951,500 in pork projects for “downtown Detroit energy efficient street lamps.”
  • U.S. Representatives Danny Davis [D-IL], Jesse Jackson, Jr. [D-IL], and Rahm Emanuel [D-IL] secured $900,000 in pork projects for “the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Illinois.”
  • U.S. Senators Richard Shelby [R-AL] and Jeff Sessions [R-AL], and U.S. Representatives Terry Everett [R-AL] and Mike Rogers [R-AL] secured $413,000 in pork projects for “tri-state joint peanut research.”
  • U.S. Representative Howard Berman [D-CA] secured $200,000 in pork projects for a “tattoo removal program.”
  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D-NV] secured $143,000 in pork projects for “the Las Vegas Museum of Natural History.”
  • U.S. Representative Charles Rangel [D-NY] secured $47,575 in pork projects for “the Harlem United wind power project.”

FY 2008…

Generally, $7.9 million in pork projects was secured for 36 theaters in 21 states.

  • U.S. Senator Robert Byrd [D-WV] secured $386 million in total pork projects.
  • U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye [D-HI] secured $173.2 million in pork projects for “defense.”
  • U.S. Senator Ted Stevens [R-AK] secured $165.7 million in pork projects for “defense.”
  • U.S. Representative John Murtha [D-PA] secured $23 million in pork projects for “the National Drug Intelligence Center.”
  • U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn [D-SC] secured $3 million in pork projects for “The First Tee.”
  • U.S. Representative Charles Rangel [D-NY] secured $1.95 million in pork projects for “the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service.”
  • U.S. Representative Ann Esshoo [D-CA] secured $1.6 million in pork projects for “the Allen Telescope Array.”
  • U.S. Representative Mike Thompson [D-CA] secured $211,509 in pork projects for “olive fruit fly research in Paris, France.”
  • U.S. Senator Richard Durbin [D-IL] secured $344,540 in pork projects for “the city of Chicago GreenStreets Tree Planting Program.”
  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D-NV] secured $196,000 for “the renovation and transformation of the historic downtown Post Office in Las Vegas, Nevada.”
  • U.S. Senators Susan Collins [R-ME] and Olympia Snowe [R-ME] and U.S. Representative Thomas Allen [D-ME] secured $188,000 in pork projects for “the Lobster Institute.”
  • U.S. Senators Max Baucus [D-MT] and Jon Tester [D-MT] secured $148,950 in pork projects for “the Montana Sheep Institute.”
  • U.S. Representative Virgil Goode [R-VA] secured $98,000 in pork projects to “develop a walking tour of Boydton, Virginia.”

FY 2007…

  • U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye [D-HI] secured $319,655,000 in pork projects for “the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program (ACUB), Pan-STARRS [to develop a large aperture telescope with the University of Hawaii to prevent space objects from colliding with Earth], the Center of Excellence for Research in Ocean Sciences, a chitosan bandage component which utilizes natural compounds found in shrimp heads, and a wave power electric generating system.”
  • U.S. Senator Ted Stevens [R-AK] secured $209.9 million in pork projects for “the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex in Red Flag, the Northern Line Extension, and for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP).”
  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D-NV] secured $72.72 million in pork projects for “the SA-90 airship persistent surveillance program, a counter-drug program for the Nevada National Guard, large aircraft infrared countermeasures, heat dissipation for electronic systems, and the study of the structural reliability of smart munitions and lightweight structures at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
  • U.S. Representative Harold Rogers [R-KY] secured $12 million in pork projects for “the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium to protect citizens living in rural areas by training rural emergency responder teams.”
  • U.S. Senator John Thune [R-SD] secured $3,335,000 in pork projects for “the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, including $2,000,000 for future affordable multi-utility materials for the Army Future Combat System, $500,000 for improvised explosive device simulation in different soils, $300,000 for a control system for laser powder deposition, $285,000 for shielding rocket payloads, and $250,000 for transparent nanocomposite armor.”
  • U.S. Senator Patty Murray [D-WA] secured $1.65 million in pork projects for “Arcadia Biosciences to improve the shelf life of vegetables.”
  • U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski [D-MD] and U.S. Representative Steny Hoyer [D-MD] secured $1.02 million in pork projects for “the Extended ColdWeather Clothing System, the Energetics Technology Center, the Rotorcraft Survivability Assessment Facility, PEM fuel cell tactical generators, for Life Shield® blast resistant panels, and the SureTrak Program.
  • U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] secured $1 million in pork projects to “fund the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center, [which will serve as an] education center and project to preserve the site of the U.S. Army’s first language school established in 1941.”

At what point did the U.S. Congress assume it had “created” the right to ignore both constitutional mandate and historical precedent in spending our money? At least it is “comforting” to note that both national parties are equally adept at wasting our taxpayer dollars…

[1] Senator Larry Craig and Representative Mike Simpson, “Earnest Earmarks,” (1 February 2006). http://

[2] “Newsmaker: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid,” Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Transcript (18 January 2006).

[3] Janet Hook & Richard Simon, “Earmarking—A Win-Win for Lobbyists and Politicians,” Los Angeles Times (29 January 2006).

[4] John C. Eastman, “Eating Up the Bread of Our Children,” The Claremont Institute (7 February 2006).

[5] The Thomas Jefferson Papers, The Library of Congress American Memory. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 6 March 1796.

[6] “Veto of federal public works bill,” Constitution Society.

[7] Ken Silverstein, “The Great American Pork Barrel,” Harper’s Magazine (1 July 2005).

[8] Forrest McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002), p. 93.

[9] Walter E. Williams, “How Did We Get Here?” The Freeman (March 2004).

[10] John C. Eastman, “Eating Up the Bread of Our Children,” The Claremont Institute (7 February 2006).


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