Virginia Republicans have brought home the bacon for the last time before a party-wide ban on federal earmarks goes into effect next year.
Virginia GOP and Democratic congressmen secured $181.3 million in federal earmarks this year, making it 34th in the nation for the size of its earmark award, according to an annual study released Wednesday by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste.
Rep. Eric Cantor was the only member who didn’t request any special spending for his district, after swearing off earmarks four years ago. Next year, he’ll be joined by Virginia’s other four Republicans if they follow a vote last month by the House party to ban earmarks among their members.
Earmarks, which are funds directed to special projects and can be attached to spending bills or legislation, have come under fire in recent years by citizens concerned about government spending on pet projects, often known as “pork barrel spending.”
While earmarks account for less than one percent of government spending, the more colorful—like the infamous Alaskan “bridge to nowhere”—are often the subject of ridicule.
But many earmarks fund infrastructure or transportation spending that many Republicans believe are core functions of government. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, known for his vociferous resistance to government spending, procured $11.1 million in earmarks for projects like improving the city of Baytown’s wastewater system and purchasing transit vehicles in Galveston.
Cantor, who touted his abstention from earmarks as a protest against government spending, stands out from politicians who want to “bring home the bacon while cutting the pork,” said Isaac Wood, assistant communications director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
But without changes to the law, moves like the one made by Cantor seem like more of a political gimmick than anything else, Wood said.
“By abstaining yourself, instead of working on a long-term solution, it seems like more of a political strategy than a fiscal solution,” he said.
Jerry Brito, an adjunct law professor and researcher at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, said earmarks can be used in good and bad ways—but they give legislators an easy way to waste money.
“A particular member can ask for support of one bill from another member, and earmarks tend to lubricate that process,” Brito said. “It’s an easy way to get wasteful projects into spending.”
While Citizens Against Government Waste puts this year’s earmark total at $16.5 billion, another nonprofit—Taxpayers for Common Sense—say it’s closer to $10 billion. Either way, both counts support a statement by Obama budget director Peter Orszag earlier this week, who said earmarks declined this year. Estimates of how much earmark spending dropped from last year range from 15 to 27 percent.
In Virginia, Rep. Jim Moran has his name on the most earmarks, totaling $106 million set aside for 82 projects. Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte requested the fewest, bringing back $233,000 for a study on the environmental impact of the waterflow from the Gathright Dam in Alleghany County.