In the Christmas spirit of gift-giving, the Senate is about to wrap up 6,700 extravagant presents known as earmarks and send the $8-billion bill to the taxpayers.
With senators thumbing their noses at the voters who last month sent a clear and unmistakable message to Congress to stop the spending binge and slash this year's $1.3-trillion budget deficit, this pork-barrel spending was tucked into a $1.2-trillion spending bill to keep the government funded for the rest of this fiscal year.
These so-called earmarks are spending provisions that neither the government agencies nor the White House sought, and were not approved by any committee of Congress. In many cases, the government specifically disapproved them.
They were slipped into the 1,924-page spending bill by mostly anonymous lawmakers who use -- abuse would be a better word -- the budget process as their private charge card and political slush fund, sending the bill to their constituents at tax time.
Take, for example, the $900,000 earmark from two Mississippi Republican senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, which will pay for an elaborate beach promenade in the port city of Pascagoula, including new pristine beaches and illuminated jogging paths, all surrounded by the best landscaping money can buy. Pascagoula got the earmark it wanted by paying a bunch of Washington lobbyists $40,000 a year to clinch the sweetheart deal. But that was just a stocking-stuffer for the two senators who are the kings of pork in the Senate.
There was the airport expansion in Tunica for $1.75 million, a bicycle and hiking trail in Hattiesburg for $700,000, and a lighted river walk in Columbus for $300,000, among the hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks on their holiday shopping list.
According to an investigation by the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, Cochran signed off on 263 earmarks to the tune of $522.2 million, and Wicker sponsored 223 earmarks that total $415.4 million.
That put them ahead of every other senator in the waste-ridden, gift-giving sweepstakes. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee, checked off 141 earmarks for his very closest friends for a mere $325 million, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell stuffed 42 earmarks into the bill, costing beleaguered taxpayers $86.1 million.
But the intense and justified anger expressed by the voters last month over skyrocketing federal spending and a staggering public debt that is nearing $14 trillion seems to have scared a few senators who are among the worst offenders --- some of whom saw their earmarks exposed on the nightly network news.