Pork on Their Way Out the Door: Departing Lawmakers Got Perks Into Spending Bills

  • Maffei wasn’t the only ousted legislator to take advantage of the federal land acquisition in the NDAA. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who also lost in November, took advantage of the land deal in the NDAA, adding a rider that designates about 70,000 acres of land in the San Juan National Forest in Colorado as the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area. The measure also puts 37,000 acres of national forest land aside as the Hermosa Creek Wilderness, and establishes the 461-acre Molas Pass Recreation Area.

  • The cromnibus creates a bipartisan commission to study the creation of a national women’s museum. While it calls for the use of “private funds,” those opposing the cromnibus say it’s another example of an insertion into the spending bill that has nothing to do with spending. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), and Congresswomen Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), were behind that add-on to the cromnibus.

  • The Department of Agriculture proposed savings of $39 million to close unused or little-used farm service agencies. Legislators, however, thought it best to continue to fund empty office space. Not one dollar can be used to close FSA office space, under the cromnibus — even those that sit empty or provide duplicative services to an area. It’s not clear which legislator or, more likely, legislators, led the way in preserving the unused offices.

  • Another $120 million in “upgrades” to the Abrams M1 tank program will be spent under the 2015 NDAA, thanks largely to Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio). The tanks are built in, you guessed it, Ohio. The problem is, the Army didn’t request the upgrades — and, in fact, did not want them. “We don’t need the tanks,” Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told a congressional panel last year. “Our tank fleet is 2-1/2 years old on average now. We’re in good shape, and these are additional tanks we don’t need.”

‘Business As Usual’

Rep. Joe Garcia, a Florida Democrat ousted in the fall, opposed the cromnibus. He said the bill, along with the NDAA, will be remembered as Congress conducting “business as usual.”

As he put it, “This was not a good faith effort to find a middle ground. The bill contained multiple special interest riders that did nothing but cater to partisan interests.”

Government watchdog groups, while still scrutinizing the two spending bills, are also setting their sights on 2015 and the 114th Congress.

Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, says it’s difficult, but necessary, to remain optimistic.

“[That’s] the only way we survive as budget watchdogs,” she said. “[The 114th Congress has] a chance to start with a relatively blank slate. We urge lawmakers to roll up their sleeves, set aside electoral pandering, and start doing the peoples' business.”

Considering the failures of the 113th, that may be setting the bar a trifle high, as Alexander herself seems to understand.

“The total spending level for fiscal year 2015 was set months before it would normally be known,” she said, “and lawmakers still couldn't get the work done on time.”