• With no earmarks in Congress, the Executive Branch hands out the pork

    By: Jamie Dupree

    Updated:

    With rules that make it difficult for lawmakers to steer taxpayer dollars into home state projects - that doesn't mean less money is being spent for such items - as instead billions of dollars in grants are being handed out by the Executive Branch each year, with federal bureaucrats taking the place of lawmakers in deciding how to dole out money approved by Congress for a variety of programs.

    A decade ago for example, Congress would have approved a highway bill filled with pages and pages of specific projects to be funded back in their states - but now, Congress funds billions in generic grants for the Department of Transportation, and then watches as the money is handed out by the feds.

    Experts say voters probably don't understand that what some would deride as 'pork barrel spending' just been shifted from the Legislative Branch to the Executive Branch.

    "Presidents — and their appointees — engage in pork-barrel politicking (earmarking) in the same way Congress does," wrote John Hudak of the Brookings Institute, who argues that budget 'earmarks' should be brought back in the House and Senate.

    Here are some examples of money sent out for highway and transit projects by the feds:

    Some lawmakers say they should be the ones deciding where that money goes - not a bureaucrat who maybe has never been to their state.

    "We all should be able to stand behind the work that we do and advertise to our constituents and everybody around the country as to why this is a priority," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

    "If people think we are quote saving money," Murkowski told reporters, "they are fooling themselves, because those dollars are still going out the door."

    But there are also Republicans who think Congress should just stay away from pork barrel spending.

    "Earmarks grease the skids for bigger government," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

    But regardless of complaints about how big the federal deficit might be, and how much is being spent overall, lawmakers of both parties trumpet the arrival of money for the folks back home - with federal agencies joining in those announcements as well.

    There are so many grants offered by the U.S. Government that a special website was set up to help people find out more information about what's available.

    Going through many of the grants, what one notices right away is the wide swath of money available for all sorts of matters:

    + Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) USA Cooperative Agreement Program

    + Invasive and Noxious Plant Management 

    + Forest and Woodlands Resource Management

    + Cultural Landscape Inventory for the Navajo Settlement 

    + Longitudinal Research on Delinquency and Crime 

    One grant available right now from the National Institutes of Health deals with research into dementia, "to conduct new research on automobile technology for signaling early signs of cognitive impairment in older drivers."

    In recent weeks, President Trump has made it clear that he's ready to use support for specific home-state spending matters to his electoral advantage, too.

    The focus on local spending is not new - almost ten years ago, I wrote about the proliferation of grants, and how the executive branch was handing out the pork.

    And it's still happening today.

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