Lawmakers want billions in government spending on unusual pet projects, Fox News finds

Lawmakers want billions in government spending on unusual pet projects, Fox News finds

EXCLUSIVE: $1,750,000 to spruce up the Japanese Garden in Portland. $436,100 for a “meditation and restorative yoga” program in New Jersey. And $250,000 to expand the Michelle Obama Library in California.

These are just some of the controversial Community Funding Project requests filed by federal lawmakers as earmarks make a return in Congress. 

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have asked for at least $6 billion in additional funding for local projects ahead of the upcoming federal budget, Fox News can reveal exclusively. 

And, while many lawmakers have tried to limit their spending to fields such as health care, transportation and education, some of the least critical projects are also the most expensive.

In fact, one of the largest requests comes from Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who wants $375 million to restore the Waukegan Carnegie Museum. According to his website, the money will go toward a “new community and event space, preserving history of the community, offering cultural enrichment, and thereby supporting nearby local businesses.”

That is just the beginning of the list of controversial projects.

There are requests for $2 million in funding for a new art collection at the Brooklyn Museum in New York; $2 million for a Pickleball and Fitness Circuit in Orange, Calif.; $1.5 million to provide free public Wi-Fi in a California city and $250,000 for a performing arts center that, according to the website of Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., “should be more than a beautifully designed building.”

Other earmarks are likely to face strong Republican pushback. There are dozens of projects that list diversity and equity among their goals, including $742,000 for a New York program that would feature “conversations around difficult issues such as racism, gender discrimination and cultural bias” and $166,000 for the development of an equity program at Lincoln University.

There are also millions of dollars, collectively, earmarked for public arts programs, climate change initiatives and Planned Parenthood.

The figures come from a comprehensive analysis of funding requests from 326 members of the House, including 220 Democrats and 106 Republicans. While lawmakers were required to upload their lists individually by the end of last week, this is the first time that the total number and cost of their requests has been published.

SENATE REPUBLICANS FIGHT BACK AGAINST EARMARKS

It comes amid the record spending proposed by the Biden administration through three landmark bills and ahead of his $1.5 trillion fiscal year 2022 budget.

Earmarks have become a controversial part of the political process over the last few decades. 

The term refers to a funding request from a congressperson for a project in the local community, such as a new bus stop or a dental clinic.

Earmarks can improve living conditions in local communities, but they also add cost to bills and have been linked to several cases of corruption.

Two ex-lawmakers even faced jail time after an investigation into their earmarks. Former Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., used earmarks to launder taxpayer money through a nonprofit, while former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., accepted $2.4 million in bribes for earmarks and even lived on a yacht owned by a defense contractor, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

With those scandals front of mind, Congress banned earmarking in 2011.

As time has passed, both Democrats and Republicans have explored a reintroduction. The latest push for change came from lawmakers ranging from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and despite some vocal opposition from within each party, earmarks marked their official return on Feb. 26.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced new oversight and transparency requirements to curb abuse. Members can request funding only for nonprofits or for a specific district. There are also caps on the number of requests, and funding is limited to no more than 1% of discretionary spending. Members also must certify that they and their families would not have any financial interests in projects, among other requirements.

Opponents to earmarks have remained steadfast. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in March that “Congress abused the trust and faith of the American people” with reckless earmarking, while Rep. Katie Porter, a rising Democrat from California, recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal that earmarks should “stay in the dustbin of history.”

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But as the analysis above shows, there is a strong appetite among a majority of lawmakers for more spending on local projects.

For better or worse, it is clear that lawmakers are embracing a new earmark era.

Rémy Numa is the political affairs specialist for Fox News Channel. 

Fox News’ Jayme Chandler, Peter Christian and Elizabeth Luhnow contributed to this report.

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