Be careful what you wish for, the old adage goes, because you just may get it.
There was rejoicing in some quarters when the cadre of freshman members of the 112th Congress took office in January, gung ho to strangle federal spending, and rammed through a moratorium on the earmarks that lawmakers had long been using to fund a myriad of projects back home.
The Citizens Against Government Waste’s 2012 Congressional Pig Book details a precipitous drop in both the number and cost of earmarks — a 98.3 percent decline in numbers, from 9,219 in fiscal year 2010 to just 152 in FY2012, and a cost decline of 80 percent, from $16.5 billion in FY2010 to $3.3 billion in FY 2012, the lowest amount since 1992.
Mission mostly accomplished, right?
Only thing is … when the earmarks dried up, a lot of projects and programs they had funded, including many in agriculture, were consigned to limbo.
The FY2012 appropriations bill had only two agriculture-related earmarks, a 99.6 percent decrease from 475 in FY2010. Both were for the Rural Utilities Service, totaling $10.3 million — a 97.4 percent decrease from the $396.5 million in ag earmarks in FY2010.
There is no little irony that some of the states whose populace so enthusiastically championed abolishment of earmarks had been among the top recipients — Mississippi, for one, which according to the Legistorm.com website, ranked No. 2 for earmarks for the period 2008-2010, at $2.11 billion.
The Washingtonwatch.com website lists 86 pages of earmarks submitted by Mississippi’s congressional delegation for 2011. One could, according to one’s particular bias, make a case for or against any of them.
But in the lot were dozens that would provide funding for critical levee/dam/bridge work on the Mississippi River and other waterways critical to agriculture; road projects also important in moving farm goods; numerous agriculture research projects, etc.
Further irony, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran was labeled by one website as “The King of Pork” for his extensive list of earmarks. Yet, during his 30-plus years in Washington, agriculture — not just in Mississippi, but nationally — has had no stauncher advocate.
As just one instance of the impact of the earmarks moratorium, it was noted at a recent meeting that “every single addition to federal funding” for the USDA-ARS Cotton Ginning Laboratories at Stoneville, Miss., Lubbock, Texas, and Las Cruces, N.M., has come through earmarks. The latter two facilities have been targeted for elimination more than once, and all have had significant funding cuts over the past 20 years, with loss of key research personnel.
While hundreds of projects that might have been funded lie in Congress’ dust bin, the ultimate irony, ag leaders point out, is that there has been no reduction in federal spending as a result of the earmarks ban.
“It makes great fodder for Fox, CNN, and the news networks,” one said. “But the reality is: it hasn’t saved any money.”