By BEN MEYERSON
WASHINGTON (April 4, 2008) - All but one of Maryland's members of Congress rank in the top half of congressional earmark spenders, with Rep. Steny Hoyer coming in fifth in the House, a consumer watchdog group reported Wednesday.
Citizens Against Government Waste's new report, "2008 Congressional Pig Book" ranked only Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, in the bottom half of House members for "pork" spending.
Earmarks have been criticized by taxpayer watchdogs for years as pet projects bulking up the federal budget. Citizens Against Government Waste has published its "Congressional Pig Book" for 18 years to illuminate the earmark process and reduce government spending.
But the delegation's members defended their projects, saying they know the state's priorities much better than President Bush, who writes the initial federal budget.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin took issue with the book's pejorative use of the term "earmark" toward projects he's backed.
"These are programs that are well established, but not funded by the federal government," Cardin said. "It requires the Congress to do what it's required to do, and that is to provide for the federal priorities of spending."
The book defines earmarks as measures: requested only by one chamber of Congress, not specifically authorized, not competitively awarded, not requested by the President, greatly exceeding the president's budget request or the previous year's funding, not the subject of congressional hearings, and/or serving only a local or special interest.
The organization said most items in the book meet at least two of the criteria.
However, Cardin took greatest issue with the fact that the book disparages any project not requested by the Bush administration.
Funds for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay are one example of this, he said.
"I've got no apologies for the work I've done on the Chesapeake Bay," he said. "If you increase a program or reinstate a program that the administration has not funded, it's considered an earmark ... with the bay, many of those programs are added back in."
The book listed Cardin as winning $236.4 million in earmarks, 26th of all senators. He's voted for two projects to restore the Anacostia River totaling $795,072, and $24.2 million for bay-related programs.
House Majority Leader Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, who had the fifth-most earmarks in the House with $149.1 million, said in a statement that his work in Congress is justified.
"I believe that my constituents strongly support these investments that among many things, go towards cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, improving transportation infrastructure, providing community services and bolstering the local economy," he said.
The book said Hoyer's earmarks largely fund federal projects in and near his district, such as $9.2 million for the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. He also sent money to many smaller local endeavors, such as $146,000 for the College Park Aviation Museum and $470,000 for technology upgrades at the Bowie Police Department.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, has long touted himself as a fiscal conservative and an advocate for small government, but the Pig Book listed him in the top third of House earmark requesters at 121st, with $35.2 million in earmarks.
"I vote for less spending, a smaller budget pie, but I work to get the biggest possible slice for the 6th District," Bartlett's press secretary Lisa Wright said, speaking on behalf of her boss.
Bartlett's earmarks included $1.6 million for laser marksmanship training for the Navy, as well as $245,000 for a Western Maryland welcome center in Frederick County.
Citizens Against Government Waste annually trots out the projects it considers to be most egregious, and none announced were from Maryland. Heading up this year's list was $211,509 for fruit fly research in Paris, $148,950 for the Montana Sheep Institute and $1.95 million for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service—passed by Charles B. Rangel.
Maryland ranked 22nd of all states in earmark dollars per citizen at $42.78 per person. Alaska and Hawaii lead the category with $555.54 and $220.63 per person, respectively.
Maryland totaled $240,356,990 in earmarks.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.