Pork, like beauty, in eye of beholder

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer ranked sixth among congressional members in the total amount of earmark fu

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer ranked sixth among congressional members in the total amount of earmark funds he secured this year, according to a fiscally conservative government watchdog group.

Schumer, a Democrat serving his second six-year term as New York’s senior senator, accounted for more than $276 million out of $16.5 billion in earmark funds — also known pork barrel funding — included in the 2010 federal budget, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

Schumer obtained funding for 191 projects, the majority of them in New York. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, also a Democrat, ranked 61st in the Senate in terms of earmarks, obtaining $105 million for 99 projects this year.

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, ranked 108th in the House, obtaining $36 million for 25 projects, and Rep. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, ranked 370th with $6 million in earmarks for 10 projects.

New York ranked 46th on the Citizens Against Government Waste’s list of states in “pork per capita” at $14.48. The national average is $27.36 per capita. Topping the list is Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, with $490 million in earmarks.

Dave Williams of Citizens Against Government Waste said the group puts out the annual list to promote reform of what it calls “Washington’s broken spending process” and to increase transparency in government. The group was founded in 1984 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization.

Williams said earmarks indicate a congressional member’s clout as well as their willingness to micromanage individual agencies and how they should spend their money.

“The problem is there is no oversight. When you have a member of Congress requesting money, the agency loses oversight in determining whether it is necessary,” Williams said. “A member of Congress’ job is to help people navigate the endless red tape of federal government and not indicate to agencies how they spend money on a project-to-project basis.”

The group uses seven criteria to define an earmark: It was requested by only one chamber of Congress; it was not specifically authorized; it was not competitively awarded; it was not requested by the president; it greatly exceeds the president’s budget request or the previous year’s funding; it was not the subject of congressional hearings; or it serves only a local or special interest.

Schumer’s office said, “Every appropriation Senator Schumer gets for the Capital Region and for the state is public, transparent, and creates jobs. They do good things like help Union Graduate College build a new campus and stay in Schenectady, and help build the new Schenectady YMCA.”

Scott Schwerin of Murphy’s office said Murphy’s rank is low because he took office after Congress passed the appropriation bills, otherwise his earmarks would have been higher. “We requested more this year than last year,” he said.

Murphy’s website lists earmark requests he is submitting for the 2011 budget.

Beau Duffy of Tonko’s office said the congressman believes earmarks are necessary. “Many go to not-for-profits and support research and development. They do advance a greater good,” he said.

Duffy also said earmarks are vetted carefully and that groups often do not receive the full amount they requested. “There is a lot of scrutiny in the process and it is competitive in one regard because not all the appropriations are approved,” he said.

Since Citizens Against Government Waste published its first list 20 years ago, Congress has enacted several reforms, including a requirement that members of Congress identify earmarks they request and that Congress stop providing earmarks to for-profit organizations. The 2010 earmarks cover 9,129 projects, a 10.2 percent decline from 2009 total, and are a 15.5 percent decrease from the $19.6 billion in pork last year.

Categories: Schenectady County

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