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Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Did you order the pork?
There was supposed to be earmark reform in Congress. But once again, big changes inside the beltway don't look so big to the rest of us.

"Earmark" is the term Congress uses for what most people call "pork." The "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska -- that was an earmark. The money issued to study the genome of a catfish -- that's an earmark too. Earmarks are a kind of hidden treasure, buried deep in appropriations bills, with little or no explanation and, of course, no name attached to which member of Congress asked for them.

On a recent dig for hidden treasure in federal legislation, we found $500,000 helping to remodel the top of a ski lift in Alaska. We found $96,000 of your federal taxes helping to remodel the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida. And up in little Rice Lake, Wisconsin, we found a tiny airport that got $2 million to lengthen a runway so a few corporate jets could land. (There are no commercial flights at Rice Lake)

Now, we have a new Congress and a new cause -- earmark reform. To me and, I think, most Americans earmark reform would mean cutting earmarks entirely or at least limiting this pork-barrel spending. But that's apparently not what the Democratic leaders had in mind.

The reform is this: In the past, these spending requests remained secret until they were voted on, and no one ever had to attach his or her name to the request. Now, the House appropriations staff tell us, the spending requests will still remain secret, but only until the full House takes a final vote on the spending bill. Then, all the requesting Congressmen's names will be made public.

Who gets what earmarks will still be decided behind closed doors and critics, including the National Taxpayers Union and Americans for Prosperity, say by the time the public knows the name the deal will already have been done.

In other words, they're not going to cut the pork, they're just going tell us who wanted it after it's all approved.

That is what's being called the most "transparent" earmark system ever. Who called it that? The new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Wisconsin Rep. Dave Obey (D).

Yep, the same guy who got the Rice Lake airport lengthened for some corporate executives and their jets. Of course, Obey doesn't see it quite that way.

"My only apology," he wrote to us in an e-mail, "is that I can't do more for Wisconsin."

--By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 4:21 PM ET
  36 Comments
To say the least, tonight's 360º had me disgusted, amazed, and fuming all at the same time. That those voted into government would continue to misuse taxpayer's money and engage in "you scratch my back I'll scratch you back" sophomoric nonsense absolutely amazes me. I’m truly disappointed in my government and completely disillusioned by our so-called leaders. Shame on anyone who supports this, participates in this, and refuses to act as an agent of change.
Posted By Jacqui Garcia : 10:47 PM ET
I don't think there is an honest politician anywhere...not nationally or locally. They all but promise their first born child until they're elected. After they are elected, all they do is talk, talk, talk. It's no wonder no one has any confidence in our government!
Posted By Myra Hoffman : 10:51 PM ET
Wow!!! There you have it. Absolute theft of taxpayers money. Can you say "fox watching the henhouse?"
When will we wake up and demand term limits for these fossils. Imagine, fresh faces, fresh minds, fresh ideas. two four year terms for senate and house members and then out !! This is an outrage and should be investigated and dealt with Quickly !!
Posted By kod111 : 10:51 PM ET
This is another example of too much government, a government that is too big. It's too easy for officials to hide or redirect public money for private purposes.

In fact, any entity that received public money should be subject to public access, after all, we all paid for it!

It's sad that we hear everyday on the news that public works projects are in dire need for funding and we have to hear about this waste of our tax dollars.

I wish public officials would wake up and remember where the source of all this money is coming from, the American People! None of this money is to be used for private use. They seem to believe our tax dollars are for their private use.

It's sad that these stories seem to get more frequent everyday and there seems to be nothing we can do.
Posted By Anonymous : 10:52 PM ET
Anderson,

Usually I really respect you, but this stuff on Murtha just won't
wash.

Where were you for the past 6 years
while the Republicans were spending
themselves nuts?
Posted By Anonymous : 10:53 PM ET
This is proof positive why there needs to be term limits on both houses of Congress and a third party in this Country.

Bruce Ross
River Forest, IL.
Posted By bross2 : 10:56 PM ET
While I believe that 'pork' should be disclosed to the public, CNN's report unfairly targeted Congressman Dave Obey because of his status as chair of the House Appropriations Committee and presented Wisconsin as a sleepy backwater unworthy of federal funding.

In reality, Dave Obey has dedicated decades of his life to serving in the House. He is a man of integrity, not someone who delights in partisanship--qualities which have consistently won him reelection as a Democrat in a mostly conservative district.

I applaud all that Dave Obey has done for the people of Wisconsin and the United States. I am sure that most members of Congress are much worse than Dave Obey has ever been when it comes to earmarks. It's too bad that we didn't get to see the whole story.
Posted By Charles Webster : 11:00 PM ET
It's hard to say who should be more embarrassed: Our government employees for being so incompetent or us for electing them.
Posted By Drew Ocala, FL : 11:01 PM ET
Earmarks are just another example of how our elected officials think they are teflon coated and bulletproof and can get away with whatever they see fit. They show a total lack of respect and disregard for the American people. What they are doing and have done with earmarks is shameful. They should all be impeached.
Shame on them.
Posted By Dorothy Turner : 11:03 PM ET
Please keep running down the stories on goverment pork. Someone needs to pick up the mantle from Senator William Proxmire's "Golden Fleece Award" and bring this type of exposé back to the forefront of public awareness.
Posted By tcreed : 11:05 PM ET
Earmark story renews my faith in journalism. You report we decide. This is a throwback to the Contract with America in 1994. Doesn't matter what party it is, they are all full of what makes the grass grow green. If you eliminated all of this pork we wouldn't have to tax anybody whose income is under $50,000. The extra disposable income would be more of an economic stimulus than anything congress could dream up. Keep up the pressure until congress eliminates earmarks.
Posted By Dan Fahey : 11:05 PM ET
Drew: Wow...you are on a roll! I admire your passion for this topic and it has been very educational for me. Thanks.

I think the issue of whether or not to publicly disclose earmarks would be a great question asked in the upcoming Presidential Debates in New Hamphire. Afterall, we are the voters as well as the taxpayers so why shouldn't we be entitled to know how and where this money is being spent, especially before it's approved or a done deal.
Posted By Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 11:06 PM ET
Years of earmark nonsense and yet there seems to never be a fix for this problem. I feel that as a tax payer anyone that plans to use our money should have too answer to the public. We are all responsible for putting and end to this so lets hold these worthless politicians accountable for the waste of all our dollars. Anyone looked at the deficit lately?
Posted By Randy : 11:08 PM ET
Secretive "earmarks" are unconscionable and should be illegal. I, for one, am going to call and email Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and pester them until they relent and hold to their promises. Thanks for alerting us to this continuing tax-payer rip-off.
Posted By B.J. Mead : 11:13 PM ET
As to earmarks or ANY spending by those in Washington let me just quote: "I cannot take to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." - James Madison, 1794. But becuase their behavior is "rewarded" by being reelected, they continue to behave this way. The damned shame is, too many of us let them.
Posted By Jeff Koch (Cook), Alpena, MI : 11:14 PM ET
Oversite provokes accountibility and accountibility provokes honesty. It is time that the law makers become accountable for their actions. So, Congress if you author an earmark sign your name to it.
Posted By Billcolsen2 : 11:19 PM ET
Tax payers money is basically being stolen from the American tax payer.Each and every State has their own process for gathering money for specicate needs.Some states have legitmate needs that affect other states and that money shoud be Federal tax money.Shoud it be river contamination,nuclear waste or whatever,state bound needs shoud be state money.
Posted By Henry Aubin, Arizona : 11:21 PM ET
Anderson,
I am very distressed to learn that
elected officials can "secretly" "earmark" Federal Tax dollars for pet projects in their state. These hard earned dollas are provided from the collective pockets of the public to be used in trust, openly and wisely.
They are not provided to indulge the whims of a few at the expense of others.
Betsy from California
Posted By Betsy of Long Beach , CA : 11:29 PM ET
I blame ALL politians for playing this nasty game with OUR money. It's not just the Republicans or Democrats, all of them are just as guilty. Aren't these requests available via the Freedom of Information Act? Until our elected officials realize that they are supposed to server OUR interests, not line their pockets, this will continue. They only get sneakier and sneakier with their methods of hiding this abuse. Until the laws change with how you can attach totally non-related items to bills, this practice will continue as it is an easy give-n-take to get what you want. With todays technology that is available and the hoards of assistants that these politicians have, there is no reason to continue to piggy-back these sleazy additions to valid bills.
Posted By Doctor : 12:18 AM ET
The "new transparent" earmark system is pretty much business as usual, in my opinion. The whole earmark system is fundamentally dishonest and just a way for politicians to buy each others' votes with OUR money. This must be stopped for our government to have any hope of gaining control of its spending.
Posted By Terry Church, McAllen, TX : 12:32 AM ET
Thank you for your report on earmarks. We hope you will continue to provide more reportage on this topic. The more light-of-day focussed on this practice,the better, and we commend you for the work you have put into following this topic. (A little less Brittany and Anna Nicole wouldn't hurt either, and would provide time for even more depth on issues like this.)

Looking forward to the report on the child safety issues in Chicago.

Thanks, again.
Posted By Lillie Sekerak : 12:55 AM ET
Its sad when you hear about things such as this and they do not surprise you at all.
What has our government come to?
Posted By BMoore : 1:43 AM ET
To hear about this sickens me. Webster should define politicics as back scratching and pocket padding: Period. The people in this country who most need some of that extra money (it MUST be extra; otherwise why would they spend it on a ski lift?) are the people who will never see a dime of it.
Posted By Lana : 1:47 AM ET
Very informative story. Democrats are proving, business as usual. Another way of looking at it - screw the tax payers. They will be looking to rip our pockets more very soon.

Finally some actual information as to what is going on in Washington! Thanks Anderson.
Posted By S. Gates : 1:52 AM ET
Earmarks are theft, to put it simple. Money requests that wouldn't ordinarily be authorized for payout, released in this unapproved manner are the equivalent of theft.

The fact that the information on these unauthorized "earmarks" or theft requests is not publicly available creates situations for crooked deals.

I'll be needing an earmark for a new car... Thank you. ; )
Posted By Greg Epkes : 1:55 AM ET
We need more nightly coverage on the "Waste In Washington" and less on the "dysfunctional Hollywood Stars". Until we as a society demand "terms limits" on politicians, "earmarks" for special projects will never go away and the waste of our tax dollars will continue forever. It is not about what is good for the masses in the United States but more about bringing money home to your state so you can get re-elected.

Long term politicians gain so much power over time that young congressman and senators have "no chance" to reform the system which has been broken for way to long. If a president can only serve for two 4 year terms, that is the way it should be for our congressmen.

Your excellent report and the "gut wrenching report" of $800 million dollars of our tax dollars via the Coast Guard fiasco on "60 Minutes" two weeks ago should outrage every American.

Sadly, we will never see term limits because the very people who can vote themselves a pay raise....can also block any legislation submitted to institute term limits. Maybe a 3rd party would help. Lets call it the "Common Sense Moderate" party which hopefully would pull the democrats and the republicans into the middle. These are nice ideas but I will not hold my breath. I will just assume that what I pay in taxes is being wasted somewhere in the "pork projects" of someone...maybe even in my state of Indiana.
Posted By Lenny, Valparaiso, Indiana : 2:04 AM ET
You know what? I'm all for public projects. I'm happy to spend some of my tax money in Alaska or Wisconsin to help my fellow countrymen... in my neck of the woods we need a new bridge and a new tunnel; other parts of this country need a new airport or need to know the genetic makeup of a catfish. I don't live there so I'm not one to judge what they need, but they are my brothers and sisters - and I trust them enough to use our money wisely.

What makes me truly angry is that we prop up large companies and wars that we don't need to fight. Honestly, Congress, give us more ski lifts and less BS!
Posted By Jon Suite : 3:41 AM ET
APPALLING! How many hospitals, schools, or social services could have been improved upon with the two MILLION dollars used for that PRIVATE airstrip to save those CEO's a mere hour and a half drive! This misuse of taxpayer money borderlines embezzlement in my eyes!
Posted By Anonymous : 5:43 AM ET
The government of this country, Republican and Democrat, seem to live in their own little world and prefer it.

The idea of all of this waste being carried out behind closed doors, really _should_ be a crime.

Government should be transparent, it should not be taking money from families that struggle to maintain housing, and health care and all the other necessities for these special interest wasteful uses.

Really, in my opinion it is no better than fraud.
Posted By Clifton Hyatt : 5:49 AM ET
The story on "earmarks" is related to a recent thought of mine. It concerns the 16th ammendment. Many reasons were given for the amendment but I believe it was neccessary because the states could have done a better job at distributing taxes for their inhabitants than the federal goverment and this was infact the justification behind the restriction the 16th ammendment repeals.
Posted By Josh Bell : 7:16 AM ET
Anderson,
As a voter, I find it unacceptable that congress behave in such a manner, and yet they are immune from prosecution. I find it laughable that both republican and democrat voters sit idle. I can really relate your excellent story to the stoning of an Iraqi woman, and yet the public stood and did nothing. When will we have a Boston Tea party in this country again, it has been 230 years+
Please keep publishing these stories, maybe one day the American voter will revolt and start locking these lawyers up.
Posted By Anonymous : 7:57 AM ET
I disagree with your definition of the term "earmark" as pork. The term "earmark" merely refers to an allocation of money toward a specific item, money which is not meant to be used in another way. It's a budgeting term which means to set aside a portion of money toward a particular end. You could earmark money towards education, defense, research or anything else. We all recognize that there is pork and that some money is earmarked for things that it shouldn't be. That doesn't mean that earmarks are bad. It means that Congress should be more careful of what it sets money aside to do.

-Mark
Posted By Mark : 8:15 AM ET
And I am surprised why? A politician is a politician is a politician. This will never change unless we change the way our government works (or the criteria we use to elect said government).

The people who are elected to Congress care about 1 main thing: getting re-elected. How do they help their chances for relection you ask? Why, by throwing unnecessary money at their state and then touting their "accomplishments" at election time. Rather than eliminating waste and needless spending at the federal level, they bums in Washington only keep making it worse.

The part that irks me the most is the fact that the majority of the pork goes to the people who need it the least (i.e. business interests). Again, you ask why? Because the businesses give all that money back to the candidates at election time so that the whole cycle can begin again. I would be all for pork if it read something like this: $96,000 to help fund child care centers in disadvantaged neighborhoods; $500,000 to upgrade school buses to run on bio-diesel; $2,000,000 to establish a fund to help offset rising college costs. That would show that my Congress-people really care about the interests of their "real" constituents: the voters.
Posted By Todd Dover, NH : 9:25 AM ET
Anderson greed and power has taken the souls. The american dream has been replaced with fear. The fast track trade,war,education even our homes. Its a sad day when a congressmans daughter is a lobbyist! All our rights go to the highest bidder! We let our biggest defence contractos move to Saudi Arabia, Bush is in bed with the enemy!
Posted By Anonymous : 10:15 AM ET
Yes, this is shameful or at least should be shameful, but face it, we are just lazy Americans and who don't care that there is no leadership left in Washington.

Is marching Capital Hill to get our point across a past time or do we even remember those days? And we haven't done anything about the borders, or the immigration, the war, or a real issue like, wire tapping, and the Patriot Act that everyone suddenly forgets about, or treating our Constitution as it it's toilet paper.

As far as I am concerned let them spend, spend, and spend and when they find out we/they cant afford it and the country spins and then collapses into the hands of who knows, then maybe something will get done.

Other than that, I am just an Red Blooded American that sits and awaits for our country to unite and call for a complete over-haul of this ridiculous government we have now and take it back, because after all it belongs to us and the ones in power now should get on their knees and pray to God that it doesn't come to that, because it wont be pretty.
Posted By Anonymous : 11:41 AM ET
Have you ever seen congressmen/women at a town hall meeting? The voters fawn, scrape, and bow to these people as if they were demi-gods. Then, when these voters go home, they complain bitterly about the same people they were crawling to. When election time rolls around, they vote the same congressmen/women back in. We'll get good government when a congressman/woman can't go to a town hall meeting without confronting an angry constituency, when we demand term limits, when we are honest enough to define pork as legalized stealing, and when we say we're going to vote incumbents out and then do it!
Posted By Mary, Beaver, PA : 10:02 AM ET
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