The Budget Deal Is Overflowing With $12 Billion of Earmarks

(This article was reprinted and translated with permission from Reason Magazine and Reason Roundup.)



The Budget Deal Is Overflowing With $12 Billion of Earmarks

Why are federal taxpayers paying for upgrades at tiny rural airports, Thanksgiving Day parades, and enhancements for Alaskan king crabs?



(Photo 11098381 © Dibrova |


Voters in California went to the polls this week for a primary election that’s the first step towards picking a permanent replacement for the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died nearly six months ago.

In Washington, meanwhile, Feinstein is still wielding influence from beyond the grave. Her name is attached to 256 different earmarks included in the budget bill working its way through Congress this week. Those pork projects will cost taxpayers about $1.1 billion if the bill passes in its current form, the Washington Examiner reported Tuesday.

And that only scratches the surface. The partial budget deal—which contains six of the 12 appropriations bills that make up the discretionary portion of the annual federal budget—is overflowing with earmarks to fund lawmakers’ pet projects. All told, there are more than 6,000 earmarks in the bill, costing taxpayers more than $12.7 billion, according to Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah), who has urged Republicans to vote against the package.

Many of the earmarks in the package seem like things that would be better funded by local or state taxpayers, who at least might stand to benefit from projects like new sewer systemsnew runways and other upgrades for tiny rural airports, and a plethora of highway projects. Some are truly head-scratching, like Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D–Wis.) $1.4 million earmark for a solar energy project in Wisconsin, one of the places in America least well suited for a solar farm.

Plenty of others make no sense for the public to be funding at all. Like a $3.5 million earmark secured by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) for The Parade Company, which runs Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Or the $2.5 million earmark that will help build a new kayaking facility in Franklin, New Hampshire, curtsey of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D–N.H.), as well as $2.7 million line item to help build a bike park in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, a town with a population of less than 2,300 people.

For that amount of money, “you could buy EVERY resident a $1,200+ bike” Sen. Rick Scott (R–Fla.), who has become a vocal critic of the earmarks in the bill, posted on X (formerly Twitter). “There’s no way they need this much of YOUR money for this.”

The same could be said for several Republican-based earmarks too. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) has inserted at least eight earmarks into the bill, forcing federal taxpayers to put up more than $33 million for things most will never use, like a new trail at Coastal Carolina University and an ROTC facility at the University of South Carolina. Among the dozens of earmarks inserted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska), perhaps the strangest is the $4 million grant for the “Alaska King Crab Enhancement Project.”

Wait, you might be thinking, didn’t Congress ban the use of earmarks when tea party-era Republicans controlled the government? Yep, they did. But like fiscal responsibility and concern about America’s ballooning entitlement costs, those efforts to limit pork barrel spending are now distant memories. Democrats voted to reinstate earmarks in 2021, and Republicans soon followed suit.

To Congress’ credit, earmarks are now handled more transparently than they used to be—which is why you can view the full list of earmarks included in the budget bills here.

Still, some things never change. Earmarks remain expensive, wasteful exercises in cronyism—and with the country $34 trillion in debt, Congress should not be putting taxpayers on the hook for frivolous handouts to politically connected friends.

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