February 24th, 2009
02:40 PM ET

Same ol' pork barrel Congress

Drew Griffin
CNN Special Investigations Unit

On the same day the President called on the government to undergo fiscal restraint, Congress unveiled a bill revealing where all those earmarks have been hiding.

The pork-laden omnibus catch-all, held over from last year, contains no less than 8,570 earmarks. The pork projects are still being deciphered by various watchdog groups, and republicans are railing at the fact that the congressional leadership seems to have violated its transparency rules by jamming these all in a last minute bill, but a quick view has me scratching my head in disbelief at both parties.

After two years of criticism aimed at pork barrel spending, the defiant members of Congress are unabashedly asking for more. Republicans and democrats alike are looking for taxpayer dollars for projects no one could call necessary.

Like what?

David Obey, the house appropriations chair, wants to rebuild a Carnegie library building in Medford, Wisconsin, and he wants to reconstruct "Historic Lighthouses" in the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. (Historic lighthouse means no one uses them anymore, they are simply nice looking relics)

Nancy Pelosi wants money for Angels Island State Park for a center to research genealogy.

A Republican, Robert Aderholt of Alabama, wants $47,500 federal taxpayer dollars to build a perimeter fence around the Rountree Airport to keep the animals away. Rountree airport listed a whopping 14 aircraft based there in 2008. There is not a single air taxi or air carrier that uses this dinky little one runway airstrip.

But the request pales in comparison with an old favorite up in Alaska that simply won't go away. Akutan is a tiny island off Alaska that has a seasonal fish processing factory. The owners of the factory gave money to now disgraced and ousted Senator Ted Stevens. We reported on Stevens' earmark request last year. This year, Stevens is gone but Akutan airport is back. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski wants you and I to spend $1-point-2 million dollars on the Akutan airport.

Airports are a favorite of money. Another favorite of mine is Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a true pro at earmarking bills. If Senator Byrd wants money for airports in West Virginia, he doesn't waste time explaining why. His earmark request in the transportation portion of the bill: $4,275,000 dollars. The explainer: "Airport improvement statewide." Effectively, just give me the money and West Virginia will determine where to spend it.

Last year I interviewed a somber, somewhat dejected republican senate veteran Orrin Hatch. When I asked him about earmarks and federal spending, he simply shook his head saying the arrogance of both sides of the aisle is quite frankly outrageous and depressing. I'd like to know if somewhere in the White House our new President who promised change and hope, isn't shaking his head too.

So how can you do your own investigative reporting to find your own Senate or Congressional pork? First, open up this House Appropriations committee link.

This site will display the Omnibus bill. Each individual portion of the bill contains a segment labeled "statement". This is the center of all pork. Scroll down to read them all. Or, if you would like to search for a specific Representative or Senate request, hit control-f, then type in the name of the Senator or Member of Congress you are looking for.

If you opened the "statement" for the "transportation" section of the bill and searched "Murkowski", you would find the money being requested for Akutan airport by Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

I know...it is not easy...but remember, just a few years ago all we got was a big stack of papers with no names attached. Happy hunting!

soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. Joe - Pensacola FL

    The only solution for getting rid of these clowns is to elect representatives that have never served in Congress; and to amend the Constitution with term limits for Congress. Do you all hear me? TERM LIMITS!!! 2 Terms and your history.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:55 pm |
  2. Adriane Carr

    What Nancy Pelosi lacked in decorum, during the State of the Union address, she certainly made up by her enthusiasum. She must be planning a very big shopping spree.

    February 25, 2009 at 8:06 am |
  3. Mr. Britt

    Roland – St George, UT- best comment iv read all night...ever

    February 25, 2009 at 6:02 am |
  4. victor

    One question – why do we have to GIVE 800 million dollars of our money to rebuild GAZA? 800 million could be better spent here at home, education, disaster aid, etc.

    February 25, 2009 at 2:17 am |
  5. Roland - St George, UT

    Tell those people who want that earmark money to start having bake sales. Want your airport fixed? Bake cakes, pies, and cupcakes and we'll sell them next Saturday at 8am, all proceeds go to the airport fund. Want a bridge to nowhere? Have a salmon cook-off and a sled race next Saturday and all proceeds go toward the bridge to nowhere.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:42 am |
  6. shawn

    We the people need to make ourselves heard! Why should we stand idiolly by and watch a hoard of money mongering fools threaten our finacial livelihood and that of our children and perhaps generations to come. We supposedly are the ones who voted these seemingly blind and incompetent fools into office. Why? Because they lied to us, made false promises and most likely never had any intentions of standing behind their words. Everyone needs to make themselves heard. Write to your congressman, senator, govenor and even city officials. Express our distaste with the job they are doing and if nothing else demand their removal from office. last time i checked, if i don't do what is expected of me in my job, I get fired!

    February 25, 2009 at 12:40 am |
  7. Ann Humphries

    Please keep telling it like it is! But remember, we do have to back our country and it's not the current president or, even necessarily the previous president that created the problems the USA suffers from now. (By the way – I did not vote for Obama. However, in backing our country, we have to back our President.) I say fire most everyone in DC and start all over. PS was Polaski drunk tonight or is that just an over-exuberant personality on display?

    February 25, 2009 at 12:30 am |
  8. oldtimer

    Pork earmarks is a way for the politicians to pay back for being elected. Pork money goes to individuals that helped elect these crooks. Term limits for all, and also force them to belong to Social Security. Our money would then be a little safer. Remember one thing that only 5% of the people in this country controls the other 95%. They make the policies and we sheep just follow along. They send out their well spoken candidate and we think he belongs to the people with those fancy words, but at the end he does their bidding. It will never change.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:23 am |
  9. randysluder

    folks, in the 1930s the mob paid politacal figures off to do things that were good for them but bad for hundreds and thousands of others. 80 years later nothing has changed. Few benefit(along with politicians) while thousands suffer.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:23 am |
  10. Corwin7

    True Alex,

    Spending away our childrens future IS a national disgrace...and the republicans have been doing it now for 8 years...where ya been pal? Welcome to the democratic party!

    February 25, 2009 at 12:21 am |
  11. Jerry

    Shaman: Just for clarification could you please tell me what money President Bush stole? And how do you know that, factually? Thank you.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:20 am |
  12. Unreadable

    Well, yeah, hit Control-F, type in the name of Sen. Hatch, and see just how much the somewhat dejected senator requested. Not a small amount! Come on.

    Now some projects are necessary, but very local, and no one would spend any money on them if it weren't for those earmarks. On the other hand, some other projects are completely unnecessary and wasteful, and it is between those two kinds that the line should be drawn.

    Life isn't simple, and simplistic approaches never work.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  13. MarkG

    Hey Ray I got a news flash for you, it isn't just Bush, and it isn't just the Republicans, or Democrats either for that matter. I agree with the one that says we throw them all out and tell them to do something productive for a living, if they ever knew how in the first place. I didn't vote for McCain or Obama, and all my relatives tell me I wasted my vote....I voted for Ron Paul.

    What happened to government "by the people and for the people"? It's turned into "government for the insiders". It is far, far beyond Democrat or Republican at this point, and I am surprised that we as Americans do not take firmer, more pro-active measures.

    Writing to your congress-person is totally ineffectual. Senator Feinstein wrote back to me that even though 87,000 out of 91,000 respondents were against the first bailout, she voted for it because she knew it was needed.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  14. Stein Taylor

    Wouldn't some of these earmarks be comparable to an average Joe who is behind on ALL his bills, but still goes out and charges for a new 40" plasma?

    Sorry, but we are spending money that we don't have, again (sigh).

    February 25, 2009 at 12:15 am |
  15. Eileen

    What should be done as a show taxpayers mean business is throw out everyone of the politicians that "porked" that bill NOW!! We can impeach a president why not others who are ripping off the people. It would be a lesson well learned in Washington. There must be some out there that truly want to help this country gain its pride,independence and fiscal solidness back.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  16. dave

    Worth repeating – In 2010 and 2012…it will be out with the old…I’m voting for people who have not served in the House or Senate ever before – TERM LIMITS. It is time for “real change” and that isn’t going to happen until we sweep both houses clean of the current people in them and leading them. And throw out the names Democrats and Republicans…it is time for Independents.
    Read Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn's book "Breach of Trust".

    February 25, 2009 at 12:08 am |
  17. Steve, Michigan

    Unfortunately pork does provide someone jobs, it just ends up being an in-law or donor of the politician.

    February 24, 2009 at 11:59 pm |
  18. Gilby-HI

    If you want to see the result of what this type of spending with out details and planing just look at the South Chiago school Anninberg program. Millons into a neighborhood which resulted in boarded up slums and total blight. Ask Pres, Obama what happend to the money.
    Tony Rescco to jail and Barac to the Whitehouse//

    February 24, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  19. William of Iowa

    Ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We elect local citizens to represent our interests at the local, state and federal levels. They are lobbyists for the local interest and needs as well as a voice for the nations collective good. We might laugh at a project in some far corner of the country, but think for a minute that it might have legitimate value to those folks who called upon their representative to solicite help. Many local, county and state projects over the years would never have been accomplished without the help of the nation through the federal government. The Omnibus bill must pass muster of the entire legislative branch, given our economic situation, I would imagine many of the requests will be removed.

    February 24, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  20. Don Maxey

    Removing Bush’s tax cut on incomes over $250,000 will not add to the cost of doing business (large or small). All legitimate business expenses are 100% deductible!

    The hiring of new employees, or sharing in the cost of health coverage, are expenses that are totally deducted from business receipts before taxes are levied.

    Please explain these facts to the current Repugnant Party leadership!

    February 24, 2009 at 11:41 pm |
  21. Grace

    Republicans, Democrats, I really don't see a differnce, it seems they're just taking turns throwing away our money.

    February 24, 2009 at 11:23 pm |
  22. bob

    We need to expose those on Capital Hill who continue to waste taxpayers money like this. More then just exposing them we should make them accountable for "why" they feel that this particular project is feasible and would add jobs or play into the President's overall plan. Anderson, you can do this over several shows. Bring them on and let them account for their wasteful spending.

    February 24, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  23. Sylvia

    This pork barrel spending is not new but this is by far the worst. Congress doesn't get it. They are out of touch with the American people. They need to get out of the chambers of Congress and meet the people who elected them to represent us. I am from Pennsylvania and the last governor's election, the people of PA voted out 17 elected people and replaced them with "new blood." Unfortunately, it didn't take many of these new elected people to fall into the same habits that made the people of PA throw those 17 out of office. The actions of Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are criminal. They had the opportunity to stop the theft, greed, and deception on Wall St. They took the "campaign money" from Wall St and continued to turn a blind eye to what was happening on Wall St.

    February 24, 2009 at 11:10 pm |
  24. Marie Schmitz

    We all know that each and every congress person has their own welfare as top priority, they have made promises to those money raisers who helped get them where they are and they need to make good on these promises.

    February 24, 2009 at 10:12 pm |
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