What do killer seaweed, swanky wedding venues and Asian diplomacy programs all have in common?
They’re all stupid crap that Americans spend tons of money on last year, thanks to congressional earmarks tucked away in bills.
Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-profit group focused on exposing wasteful federal spending, managed to raise the national blood pressure yet again in its 2017 Pig Book, released Wednesday. This year, the group's annual spending re-cap highlights nearly $7 billion in ridiculous and unnecessary congressional earmarks passed in FY2017 alone.
CGAW notes that despite Congress’s own moratorium on earmarks, the number of earmarks attached to the legislature’s spending bills actually rose from 123 in FY2016 to 163 in FY2017 – a 23 percent increase. Lawmakers also spent about 33 percent more on earmarks than last year, proving the federal pig is alive and well, even as taxpayers cough up plenty of their own bacon.
Here are just a few of the piles of government pork CAGW came across this year:
1. Controlling seaweed: $9 million
In just the last year, Congress spent $9 million on the Aquatic Plant Control Program, an initiative under the Army Corps of Engineers that supposedly monitors and maintains the overpopulation of invasive marine plant species. That's some pretty expensive underwater weed killer.
(If you’re wondering about invasive animal species, we’ve got a plan for that, too – it’s called the Aquatic Nuisance Species Research Program. But I digress.)
2. Trying to prevent disasters while not actually preventing anything: $45.5 million
Another $45.5 million taxpayer dollars were earmarked for the National Predisaster Mitigation Fund in FY2017, reflecting a stunning 82 percent increase from the $25 million earmarked for it in FY2015 (the program took a hiatus last year). The PDM program is managed under FEMA and develops “hazard mitigation plans” for local communities – which, of course, includes educating the public and handing out gobs of cash in the form of grants for disaster prevention projects.
Sidenote: disasters? Yeah, they still happen.
3. Talking about how awesome democracy is: $66.5 million
American taxpayers handed over a cool $66.5 million to the National Endowment for Democracy in FY2017, which CAGW explains is “a private, nonprofit foundation that aims to help grow and strengthen democratic institutions around the world.”
How? Not a clue. But the group has managed to get $280 million from us since 1997, so someone’s getting paid.
4. Creating programs to do what the State Department does anyway: $6 million
We also shucked out about $6 million to the East-West Center in Hawaii, a program whose stated goal is to improve relations between the United States and Asian-Pacific nations. This is despite the fact that we have an entirely separate State Department whose entire job is to do…well, exactly that. (Apparently, the State Department actually hates this little redundant program, but that isn't stopping Congress from funding it anyway.)
5. Ensuring women can get married in style with their '20s-era Gatsby-themed dream wedding (which, let's be honest, is ridiculously played out at this point, and, even if it wasn't, I shouldn't have to pay for your gaudy champagne fountain): $5 million
CAGW also found Congress is still chucking tons of taxpayer cash – about $5 million in FY2017, to be exact – toward the “Save America’s Treasures” grants program, supposedly aimed at preserving the nation’s historical landmarks. Of course, CAGW notes that many of these “historical” sites could easily make ends meet by employing better business decisions instead of asking for government handouts, such as the case of one pricey wedding venue that got a leg-up from Ye Olde American Wallet back in 2008:
A prime example is the $147,660 earmarked by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) in FY 2008 for the plush de Seversky Center Mansion in Old Westbury, New York, which “brings together Gatsby-era opulence, modern convenience, and highly personalized service” for corporate events and weddings. Wedding-spot.com calls the facility “one of the premier event and wedding venues in the New York area” and cites the average wedding cost “at between $73,015 and $86,737 for a ceremony & reception for 150 guests.” In other words, two weddings could have replaced the earmark.
It looks like draining the swamp might take a little more pig-wrestling than many American voters thought, considering the number of both Democrats and “small-government” Republicans whose hands are pretty much soaked with grease from other people's bacon.