Pork-Barrel Spending

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Definition of Pork Barrel Spending:

Pork-barrel spending occurs when funding for projects that benefit local constituents are rolled into spending proposals that normally have no relation to the primary purpose of the bill.

Detailed Explanation:

Assume you are a member of congress facing a tough re-election. You need money to help finance your campaign and voters to win the election. Your district includes a small community that would benefit from additional tourism, and believes a teapot museum is an answer. But the community lacks the funds. If you deliver the money, perhaps the local contractor would donate to the campaign and the citizens would appreciate your efforts and vote for you. A large spending bill needs your vote, so you choose to attach this request in return for your vote to pass the spending bill.

In 2006, Sparta, North Carolina, a community of approximately 18,000, $500,000 was spent to build a teapot museum. (Read Carolina Journal - Teapot Museum Creates Tempest.) This is an example of pork-barrel spending, or “earmarking”. Would you vote for a politician who brings federal money to your area? Pork barrel spending is a term used for budget items that benefit special interests or small groups of voters. These items are hidden because they are attached to larger unrelated bills. A bill is passed when there is enough pork to satisfy enough representatives to pass a bill. 

The “Big Dig” is one of the largest examples of pork-barrel spending. A tunnel in Boston Massachusetts replaced 3.5 miles of interstate. It cost federal tax payers $14.6 billion; that’s over $4 billion per mile. To learn more read Boston Globe Magazine - 10 Years Later, Did The Big Dig Deliver?

Many presidents have requested the line item veto, which would allow them to remove these earmarks. The line item veto was granted to President Clinton in 1996. He used it 82 times, until the US Supreme Court ruled the line item veto was unconstitutional. 

The Citizens Against Government Waste publishes the Congressional Pig Book each year summarizing pork-barrel spending. In 2016, the Congressional Pig exposed 123 earmarks totaling $5.1 billion, up 21.4 percent from 2015.

Dig Deeper With These Free Lessons:

The Federal Budget and Managing The National Debt
Fiscal Policy - Managing an Economy by Taxing and Spending

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