With rules that make it difficult for lawmakers to steer taxpayer dollars into home state projects - that doesn't mean less money is being spent for such items - as instead billions of dollars in grants are being handed out by the Executive Branch each year, with federal bureaucrats taking the place of lawmakers in deciding how to dole out money approved by Congress for a variety of programs.
A decade ago for example, Congress would have approved a highway bill filled with pages and pages of specific projects to be funded back in their states - but now, Congress funds billions in generic grants for the Department of Transportation, and then watches as the money is handed out by the feds.
Experts say voters probably don't understand that what some would deride as 'pork barrel spending' just been shifted from the Legislative Branch to the Executive Branch.
"Presidents — and their appointees — engage in pork-barrel politicking (earmarking) in the same way Congress does," wrote John Hudak of the Brookings Institute, who argues that budget 'earmarks' should be brought back in the House and Senate.
Some lawmakers say they should be the ones deciding where that money goes - not a bureaucrat who maybe has never been to their state.
"We all should be able to stand behind the work that we do and advertise to our constituents and everybody around the country as to why this is a priority," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
"If people think we are quote saving money," Murkowski told reporters, "they are fooling themselves, because those dollars are still going out the door."
But there are also Republicans who think Congress should just stay away from pork barrel spending.
"Earmarks grease the skids for bigger government," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).
But regardless of complaints about how big the federal deficit might be, and how much is being spent overall, lawmakers of both parties trumpet the arrival of money for the folks back home - with federal agencies joining in those announcements as well.
NEW: Today the @EPA announced that 6 FL communities are among 149 selected to receive more than $64 million in Brownfield Grants.— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) June 5, 2019
This funding will help revitalize our communities, support local development & help Floridians get jobs and support their families. Great news! https://t.co/je1oEVd3jW
Congratulations to @RickIntlAirport for being awarded a $15M FAA grant. Proud to work with the #Ohio delegation to benefit @CBUSRegion as Rickenbacker is projecting a tenfold increase in cargo activity over the next 20 yrs.https://t.co/42Bfk9NaTB— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) May 16, 2019
EPA selected 149 communities for #Brownfields grants including 5 in Georgia to help local governments redevelop vacant and unused properties, transforming communities and local economies. https://t.co/ecS880IKj6— EPA Southeast (@EPASoutheast) June 5, 2019
"US Sens. John Boozman & Tom Cotton and Rep. Rick Crawford announced that a @USDOT grant worth $2,335,4000 will go toward the Jonesboro Industrial Lead Project." via @Region8News— Senator John Boozman (@JohnBoozman) June 10, 2019
It will enhance Jonesboro's position as an economic hub in the years ahead.https://t.co/1q1fKqm1qN
Glad I could join @RhodeIslandDEM @RIHEALTH & others to announce 200K @EPA grant to help clean up RI beaches. A big thank you to everyone who works to keep our coastline clean & beautiful! pic.twitter.com/i23z05Hhd9— Senator Jack Reed (@SenJackReed) June 7, 2019
Thank you, @FAANews! The @FAANews announced nearly $840m in grant funding for the coming fiscal year. $29.6m is dedicated to @ANCairport for RWY 15/33. Thank you, @repdonyoung, @lisamurkowski, @SenDanSullivan for supporting FAA Reauthorization, and advocating for AK Aviation. pic.twitter.com/2BWiOp0Ce0— Anchorage Airport (@ANCairport) June 10, 2019
Five #AL airports are receiving a total of $20.8 million in @FAANews grants for upgrades. I look forward to the positive impact these funds will have on the safety & efficiency of our local airports & economic growth in communities. @USDOT https://t.co/2xFJ3On015— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) May 10, 2019
@WacoTXFire just took delivery our new Oshkosh Striker ARFF vehicle for FS# 10 at Waco Regional Airport. This was from a 90% grant from The FAA @FAANews . Will be in service soon after training and minor equipping. pic.twitter.com/CkL39rl74B— Waco Fire Department (@WacoTXFire) March 27, 2019
Yesterday, I joined Mayor of Pleasanton Travis Hall in announcing an award of $508,000 to the Pleasanton Municipal Airport. The grant is awarded from @TxDOT through @FAANews Airport Improvement Program. The funding will go towards airport improvements for safety & efficiency. pic.twitter.com/1Op8GTwEEf— Rep. Henry Cuellar (@RepCuellar) March 20, 2019
Grateful to have @SenSchumer at Ithaca airport today, announcing his support for an @FAANews grant to support airport expansion and economic growth in the region fueled in part by @Cornell. #Twithaca pic.twitter.com/BuDAOFkd47— Joel Malina (@Joel_Malina) February 8, 2019
.@USDOT and the #FAA approved three grants totaling $24.5M to improve #airport #infrastructure across #Kentucky, including @FlyLouisville. https://t.co/ene5zoDKFk #FAAAirportGrants18 pic.twitter.com/IYS2ZMtjay— The FAA (@FAANews) September 25, 2018
There are so many grants offered by the U.S. Government that a special website was set up to help people find out more information about what's available.
Going through many of the grants, what one notices right away is the wide swath of money available for all sorts of matters:
+ Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) USA Cooperative Agreement Program
+ Invasive and Noxious Plant Management
+ Forest and Woodlands Resource Management
+ Cultural Landscape Inventory for the Navajo Settlement
+ Longitudinal Research on Delinquency and Crime
One grant available right now from the National Institutes of Health deals with research into dementia, "to conduct new research on automobile technology for signaling early signs of cognitive impairment in older drivers."
In recent weeks, President Trump has made it clear that he's ready to use support for specific home-state spending matters to his electoral advantage, too.
My Administration will be fighting for $200 million for the Army Corps Everglades restoration work this year. Congress needs to help us complete the world’s largest intergovernmental watershed restoration project ASAP! Good for Florida and good for the environment.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
We must protect our Great Lakes, keeping them clean and beautiful for future generations. That’s why I am fighting for $300 million in my updated budget for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
The focus on local spending is not new - almost ten years ago, I wrote about the proliferation of grants, and how the executive branch was handing out the pork.
And it's still happening today.