From the NY Times:
Despite a pledge by Congressional leaders to reduce pork-barrel projects, new information shows that both the number and amount of earmarks have increased in several spending bills now making their way through Congress.
The amount of the earmarks in the House version of the labor, health and human services appropriations bill for the 2009 fiscal year, for example, has jumped to $618.8 million from $277.9 million compared with the bill in 2008, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington.
In the Interior Department spending bill, earmarks increased to $134.9 million from $111 million from last year. Those amounts might change when the Appropriations Committee approves those bills. A spokeswoman from the committee said the number and amount of earmarks would be kept at 2008 levels.
A few years ago, the Department of Homeland Security bill had no earmarks; the new House bill has more than 100. In all, lawmakers requested 3,796 earmarks worth about $2.7 billion in seven spending bills.
The debate over earmarks has heated up in recent years after they figured into several Congressional scandals.
President Bush has threatened to veto spending bills if the number and cost of earmarks were not cut in half. Mr. Bush said that earmarks were wasteful and that the projects they financed typically lacked transparency and oversight.
The number of earmarks did decline last year after lawmakers, under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, mandated that members publicly disclose their financing requests.
“But these increases we are seeing clearly sets back any steps toward reform,” said Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste. “We’re back to where we were before.”
Supporters of the practice say Congress has the right to appropriate financing to organizations and programs that agencies might otherwise overlook. But Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a longtime critic of earmarks, said the budget process had become a spoils system.
“It’s become a way for lawmakers to award the lobbyists and others who give to their campaigns,” Mr. Flake said.
House Democrats lead the way in earmark requests worth billions of dollars in the seven bills for which information is available, according to a review of the data by The New York Times.