Return of Pork Barrel Politics: The Biden Budget Failure

In case you missed it, President Biden signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill on March 15, 2022. But that price tag is not what makes the bill stand out. What makes the bill stand out is what it represents: the failure of Washington D.C. politicians to follow their own requirements for passing a budget.

Under its budget rules, the Congress is supposed to break down its proposed spending into 13 separate appropriation bills based on general categories of government spending. The spending for each is developed by appropriation committees for each category in the House of Representatives and Senate. Following these rules makes it possible for members of Congress to review the spending items that go into each appropriation bill before the entire Congress votes upon it.

But that’s not happening in the U.S. Congress. Because President Biden’s spending priorities are so divisive, the regular budget process broke down. The appropriations for major functions of government had become just as backed up as the massive container ships lined up outside southern California’s ports. So much so that the U.S. government risked a shutdown.

Under that building pressure, the so-called majority party leaders of the House and Senate chose a desperate course of action. They crammed all the spending they could together into an ‘omnibus’ spending bill, which they forced through votes in Congress with minimal review. Here’s how Investopedia‘s Jim Probasco described that process:

The legislation moved at the congressional version of warp speed, passing the House late Wednesday, less than a day after it was introduced, and clearing the Senate 24 hours later. The 2,741-page bill was signed by President Biden on March 15….

Passage of the legislation came after months of delay and three temporary continuing resolutions (CRs) designed to keep the government afloat until legislators could agree on a final product. Congress was up against a midnight March 11 deadline before a government shutdown was set to occur.

But to get it through the U.S. Congress, the majority party leaders in the House and Senate turned to an old and corrupt political practice that had been banned ten years earlier. They brought back pork barrel politics.

Here’s how Investopedia defines pork barrel politics:

Pork-barrel politics is the legislator’s practice of slipping funding for a local project into a budget. The project may have nothing to do with the bill and may benefit only the legislator’s home district. Before a bill gets to a vote, pork-barreling has often greatly inflated its costs through the addition of various legislators’ pet projects.

Let’s call pork barrel politics what it really is: political bribery. And like any other criminal act, it harms American taxpayers:

Pork barrel politics affect the economy in several ways. Pork barrel spending occurs when the government earmarks funds to be spent in a specific region of the country, usually as a favor to an elected representative from that region.

Such government spending often confers an economic benefit to the region involved, with the money typically going toward infrastructure and other projects that create jobs and improve quality of life. However, the effect on the rest of the country is negative, with taxpayers shouldering the cost of these pork barrel projects without receiving the benefits.

Government spending watchdog OpenTheBooks has highlighted several of the pork barrel spending earmarks that were stuffed into the omnibus spending bill:

No wonder the organization is supporting a proposed law requiring 72 hours, giving elected officials time to read the spending bills on which they will be voting.

Regardless, all these actions are occurring because of the budget failures of the President and the majority party leadership in the U.S. Congress. If you wanted to know why the federal government spending of this $1.5 trillion is so out of control, there you go!

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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