McCain Details Omnibus Pork on Senate Floor

There are many issues over which I disagree with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), but one thing for which he is to be lauded is his staunch and consistent opposition to the insidious practice of inserting kickbacks to ceratin interest groups—otherwise known as earmarks—into federal legislation. According to the Constitution, the public’s money should be spent only on those things that benefit everyone (i.e., the “general welfare,” a clause that has sadly been repeatedly ignored or conveniently misinterpreted), and should not be taken from taxpayers for the purpose of giving it to particular groups or narrow interests.

While, in the grand scheme of things, earmarks may not comprise a very significant portion of federal spending, they are one of the most maddening forms of government waste and abuse. Moreover, if Congress cannot restrain itself from these relatively smallyet numerousabuses, despite its repeated promises to do so, how can we have any faith that it will tackle the larger and more contentious spending issues that threaten to bankrupt the nation?

On the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, Sen. McCain, as he has many times in similar situations in the past, detailed some of the nearly 6,500 earmarks totaling approximately $8.3 billion contained in the omnibus appropriations bill currently being considered by Congress. Below is an excerpt of his remarks. (Note: I have added the boldfaced emphasis to the spending items.)

If only Sen. McCain would be as much of a budget hawk when it comes to military and entitlement spending as he is over earmarks we might be able to makes some progress in addressing the massive national debt.

Mr. President, according to my calculations, it has been 42 days since the people of this great Nation of ours spoke, and they spoke in a very strong fashion. It was described by the President of the United States as a “shellacking.” It was described by others as a tsunami.

The House of Representatives, as we know, passed to Republican hands. In this body there were six additional Members from my side. I thought the message was pretty clear—that the American people said: Enough with the spending. Enough with the porkbarrel earmark spending. Enough of mortgaging our children and our grandchildren’s futures.

[. . .]

At 12:15 today my office received this appropriations bill, 1,924 pages long, and containing funding for all 12 of the annual appropriations bills, for a grand total of $1.1 trillion. It is important to note of this 1,924 pages is only the legislative language and does not include the thousands of pages of report language which contains the details of the billions of dollars in earmarks, and I am sure major policy changes written without a hearing, written without scrutiny, written without the input of the majority of the Members of this body, written by a handful of Senators who happen to be members of the Appropriations Committee.

The American people said just 42 days ago: Enough. Are we tone-deaf? Are we stricken with amnesia? What is going on? We have just begun to look at this monstrosity, and we are beginning to uncover which earmarks the appropriators decided to fund.

Thanks to a new online data base, we at least know what earmarks were requested by Members and how much those projects would cost the American people if they were all funded. Organizations such as Taxpayers Against Earmarks,, and Taxpayers for Common Sense joined forces to create a database. According to the data they compiled for fiscal year 2011, Members requested over 39,000 earmarks totaling over $130 billion—those were requested.

I encourage every American to go to the Web site,, study it, and make yourselves aware of how your elected officials seek to spend your money.

In the short time I have had to review this massive piece of legislation, we have already identified approximately 6,488 earmarks totaling nearly $8.3 billion when we are running record deficits. When there is a $40,000 debt for every man, woman, and child in America, we are going to have 6,488 earmarks totaling nearly $8.3 billion. Here is a small sample: $277,000 for potato pest management in Wisconsin—you will notice there is a location for every one of these earmarks—$246,000 for bovine tuberculosis in Michigan and Minnesota; $522,000 for cranberry and blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey; $500,000 for oyster safety in Florida.

One of my favorites that pops up all the time is $349,000 for swine waste management in North Carolina. Another one of my all-time favorites that is always in there, $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama; $247,000 for virus-free wine grapes in Washington; $208,000 for beaver management in North Carolina; $94,000 for blackbird management in Louisiana; $165,000 for maple syrup research in Vermont; $235,000 for noxious weed management in Nevada. That is another one that, when you total it up over the years, comes into millions.

One hundred thousand dollars for the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage Visitor’s Center in New York. Another of my all-time favorites that is always on here every year, $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii. If some people are watching, you are thinking I am making this up. I am not making it up. Three hundred thousand dollars for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii; $400,000 for solar parking canopies and plug-in electric stations in Kansas.

Additionally, the bill earmarks $720,000 to compensate ranchers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan whenever endangered wolves eat their cattle. As my colleagues know, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Grey Wolf Program is under intense scrutiny for wasting millions of taxpayers’ dollars every year to “recover” endangered wolves that are now overpopulating the West and Midwest. My State of Arizona has a similar wolf program. But ranchers in my State are not getting $727,000 in this bill.

[. . .]

One thing is abundantly clear. The majority has not learned the lessons of last month’s election. The American people could not have been more clear. They are tired of the wasteful spending. They are tired of big government. They are tired of sweetheart deals for special interests. They are tired of business as usual in Washington. And they are certainly are tired of massive bills, like this one, put together behind closed doors, and rammed through the Congress at the last minute, so that no one has the opportunity to read them and no one knows what kind of waste that is in them.

[. . .]

So it is with great regret that I again have to come to the floor, as I have for many years, and be critical of my colleagues who are good and honorable and decent Americans. But this process, this process of earmarking, which this is an example of, is not honorable behavior.

I yield the floor.

Sen. McCain’s entire remarks are included in pages S9006-S9007 of the Congressional Record and can be found by searching the Library of Congress Web site for December 14, 2010.

Adam Summers is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. He has written extensively on privatization, government reform, law and economics, and various other political and economic topics.