Yesterday, I posted the list of committee chairman selected by the Republican Steering Committee for the next Congress, noting that Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), the incoming chair of House Appropriations Committee, has a reputation for wasting money.
In his “Keeping Them Honest” segment on Wednesday night, Anderson Cooper detailed some of the pork Rogers, the King of Pork, has brought home:
He got a quarter billion dollars in the last two years, including 52 million dollars for a National Center for Hometown Security. It’s located right there in Somerset, Kentucky, which is Congressman Rogers’ hometown. Population? Wait for it–11,000. The local airport’s also gotten earmarks over the years. $17 million even though the last commercial airline? They pulled out in February due to a lack of passengers. It’s right down the road, by the way, from the Hal Rogers Parkway.
Yes, this is who Republicans selected to be the head of the House Appropriations Committee, famously dubbed “the favor factory” by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Unacceptable.
Here is the video:
Just a few weeks after voting to extend a self-imposed moratorium on earmarks, some so-called conservatives are looking for away around the ban, fretting that their pet projects will now be put at risk:
[S]ome Republicans are discussing exemptions to the earmark ban, allowing transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water projects. While transportation earmarks are probably the most notorious — think “Bridge to Nowhere” — there is talk about tweaking the very definition of “earmark.”
“It’s like what beauty is,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). “Everyone knows what a bridge to nowhere is, or an airport that lands no airplanes, or a statue to you — everyone knows that’s bad. It’s easy to say what an earmark isn’t, rather than what an earmark is.”
The issue has popped up most frequently at the Conservative Opportunity Society, the caucus founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the early 1980s. During their Wednesday morning meeting last week, caucus members had a long discussion about how the Republican Party could redefine “member-directed spending,” as earmarks are formally called on the Hill.
Conservatives like Roe, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Iowa Rep. Steve King are among those trying to figure out a longer-term, sustainable way to get money back to projects in their districts.
“This isn’t trying to be too cute by half of what is an earmark and what isn’t,” Bachmann told POLITICO on Wednesday. “But we have to address the issue of how are we going to fund transportation projects across the country?”
Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) took to Twitter to put out the obvious hypocrisy of his colleagues:
“I support Congressman Jeff Flake [R-AZ] in his effort to be appointed to serve on the Appropriations Committee, and I join with incoming Majority Leader Cantor in expressing hope that other reform-minded Members of Congress will follow Jeff’s example in seeking appointment to the committee.
“The Appropriations Committee will be the scene of much action in the next Congress as we work to implement the Pledge to America, which calls for cutting spending to pre-’stimulus’ levels, repealing the job-killing health care law, prohibiting all taxpayer funding of abortion, and bringing greater scrutiny to the broken spending process in Washington. These priorities are among the priorities of the American people, and the Republicans currently serving on the Appropriations Committee are going to need all the additional help they can get in working to ensure the priorities of the people are met.”
Flake has been a thorn in the side of earmarkers in Congress for quite some time. Over the past few years, he has offered a series of amendments aimed at stripping pork projects out of spending bills. Flake often making the correlation between members who seek earmarks and corrpution; calling the House Appropriations Committee a “favor factory.”
In an effort to defend earmarks and fight off a proposed moratorium, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who has apparently fallen in love with the smell of the marble in the Halls of Congress, invokes James Madison in defense of the practice:
Earmarks have been part of the congressional process since the founding of our country. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution viewed it, appropriating funds is the job of the legislature. Writing in the Federalist, he noted that Congress holds the power of the purse for the very reason that it is closer to the people. The words of Madison and Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution say that authorization and appropriations are exclusively the responsibility of the legislative branch. Congress should not cede this authority to the executive branch.
Yes, Sen. Inhofe, that’s why James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817 (a spending bill loading with pork and pet projects for members of Congress) explicitly because it was unconstitutional:
The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.
Republicans in the Senate are engaged in a fight over whether or not to enact a caucus-wide moratorium similar to what House Republicans imposed on themselves this year. You would think that this would be a no-brainer as an effort to appeal to grassroots conservatives and tea partyers, but some Republicans are pushing back, including Sen. Mitch McConnell:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is maneuvering behind the scenes to defeat a conservative plan aimed at restricting earmarks, setting up a high-stakes showdown that pits the GOP leader and his “Old Bull” allies against Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and a new breed of conservative senators.
In a series of one-on-one conversations with incoming and sitting senators, McConnell is encouraging his colleagues to keep an open mind and not to automatically side with DeMint, whose plan calls on Senate Republicans to unilaterally give up earmarks in the 112th Congress, according to several people familiar with the talks.
While McConnell is not demanding that rank-and-file Republican senators vote against the earmark ban, he’s laying out his concerns that eliminating earmarks would effectively cede Congress’ spending authority to the White House while not making a real dent in the $1 trillion-plus budget deficit. And McConnell is signaling his concern about the awkward politics of the situation: even if the DeMint moratorium passes, Republican senators could push for earmarks, given that the plan is nonbinding and non-enforceable.
Rep. Joe Sestak, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln aren’t the only Democrat playing games with earmarks. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is ignoring the rules of the Senate Appropriations Committee and pretty much doing whatever he wants when it comes to disclosure of his earmark requests, according to Washington Watch:
Take a look at Senator Bingaman’s earmark requests [ugly PDF image] for the Energy & Water appropriations bill. It’s a day-late, dollar-short disaster! (Bingaman’s disclosures for other approps bills are collected here.)
Take one funding request, identified only as “Central NM 593.”
The location of the project is “Bernalillo, Valencia, and SandovaNM1 [sic] Counties.”
Its purpose and benefit to taxpayers? Just two words: “Water Supply.”
Nowhere does Senator Bingaman say who will receive the money. It’s something taxpayers might like to know, and the Senate Appropriations Committee requires its disclosure.
Based on that justification, Senator Bingaman got a million dollar payout. A million dollars for a two word justification!
Senator Bingaman’s disclosure for the Energy & Water approps bill is just three pages long. Three pages cover 65 earmark requests, adding up to over half a billion dollars (—and eight percent of something…). Can a half-billion dollars in spending be justified in under three pages?
Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln is down 20 points in the polls, but the Democrat is apparently going to go down swinging—with $1.5 billion of your money. She is the spending problem, in profile.
Last year heavy rain damaged cotton and rice crops across the South. The 2008 farm bill, passed by a Democratic Congress, created the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) to aid farmers hit by such weather-related disasters. The admirable intent was to stop farm-state Senators from looting the Treasury after every early frost or the like. To qualify for SURE funds, farmers are now required to buy crop insurance (federally subsidized to the tune of about $6 billion a year) and to have lost more than 30% of their crop value.
Mrs. Lincoln wants to pull an end run around this law and make Arkansas farmers eligible for retroactive taxpayer payments. The payments would be made even if the recipients didn’t buy crop insurance and even if their damages were as little as 5%. Most small businesses in America suffered far more than a 5% fall in revenues during the recession, but few are getting six-figure handouts from Uncle Sam. Rice and cotton prices have recovered nicely this year in any event.
By now you’ve heard about Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) mentioned the idea of bringing back earmarks, which the GOP has had a self-imposed moratorium on for the last year. A day or so later Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) called his colleague, Sen. John McCain, a “liberal” because of his opposition to the practice. I guess Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and Jeff Flake all now have firmly established “liberal” credentials since they have largely led the fight against the practice.
The folks over at Citizens Against Government Waste offer their two cents on the already waning commitment to fiscal stewardship by Republicans:
It looks like House Republicans took a one year moratorium on earmarks to show voters an image that they were fiscally restrained without actually sticking to it. With leadership like this, it won’t be surprising if we saw Republicans lose control of the House as quickly as they win it.
As I’ve said before, earmarks (projects inserted in a spending bill that aren’t vetted or pick winners and losers) aren’t the problem, but a symptom of the fiscal irresponsibility that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) notes has contributed to the “culture of corruption” in Washington.
Cantor’s comments show us that even though Republicans haven’t taken back the House and they’ve already become addicted to the smell of the marble. Business as usual is not going to cut it. In order to prove that you are serious about dealing with spending, you have to begin to show that you are willing to go after waste, even if it’s symbolic.
On Tuesday, I noted that House Republicans may end their self-imposed moratorium on earmark, showing that they still may not have learned their lesson on an issue that appeals to the tea party.
In the other chamber, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is actually calling Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) a liberal because of his opposition to earmarks:
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe attacked fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona on Tuesday as a closet liberal who “gets elected because of one thing - earmarks.”
Specifically, Inhofe was criticizing McCain’s opposition to earmarks, which Inhofe said are simply appropriations.
McCain came under heavy pressure from the right during his reelection campaign this year but is expected to win Tuesday’s GOP primary.
Inhofe did not mention Oklahoma’s junior senator Tom Coburn, also an opponent of earmarks.
I’m no fan of John McCain, but this isn’t a legitimate criticism. I’d much rather hit him on his support of cap-and-trade, legislation he has pushed to silence political speech, and several other statist positions, but opposition to earmarks isn’t one of them.
In an article published yesterday at the Politico, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) signaled a willingness to end the Republicans’ moratorum on earmarks, a bad message to send to tea partyers:
Cantor also signaled that earmarks may come back, after a one-year hiatus in which House Republicans set a moratorium on all earmark requests. But should the spending items reappear, they’ll be based on “merit, not muscle,” he said.
“If there are earmarks, there will be an earmark process that will ensure we’re doing everything we can to show the people that their dollars are not being wasted on monuments to me, on waste and pork,” Cantor said.
The problem with earmarks is two-fold. The obvious is that they are overwhelmingly wasteful and egregious, something that Washington had finally started to get control of. Politicians use them to build monuments to themselves, influence other legislators, pander to constituents by “bringing home the bacon,” reward campaign contributors and to pick winners and losers.
I know some fiscal conservatives and libertarians have adapted Rep. Ron Paul’s view of earmarks. I disagree. Earmarks, while representing a fraction of the budget, are symbolic of everything that we have come to despise about Washington. The practice isn’t subject to a bidding process and there are no hearings on earmarks to determine the merit of a project. Appropriators simply insert a project in a spending bill and the treasury is raided.