After years of crusading against “pork-barrel” spending projects in Congressional appropriations bills, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may be breaking his own rules.
McCain pushed for, and got, $14.3 million for Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base inserted into the just-completed fiscal 2004 military construction appropriations conference report.
The only problem is the project to acquire more land near the base was not requested by President Bush or fully authorized by the Senate Armed Services Committee — two of McCain’s criteria for identifying so-called “pork.”
“Even though this project is in clear violation of the McCain rule because it was not authorized nor requested, we are happy to provide the funds at his request and the request of other members of the Arizona delegation,” said House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield.
Scofield also noted that the provision may violate other tenets of McCain’s “pork” rules because the purpose of the funds — to acquire land to prevent the encroachment of residential development near the base’s live-fire range — is not included in Defense’s long-term strategic plans and may not be achievable within a five-year time frame.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who has bitterly fought McCain’s repeated attempts to strike even the smallest of pork projects during Senate floor debate on appropriations, was blithe about the news that McCain had secured an earmark for his own state.
“One man’s pork is another man’s alternate white meat,” said Stevens. “We don’t discriminate. ... If he asked for it, we put it in.”
McCain defended his actions, saying he first sought authorization for the measure in the fiscal 2004 Defense Department authorization bill.
“The fact that the appropriations bill may [be sent to the president] before the authorization bill is not relevant to my point of view, because we did the authorization before we did the appropriations bill,” McCain said of the order the bills came to the Senate floor.
McCain, who sits on the Armed Services Committee in charge of devising the Defense Department authorization, said he has little control over the process once it passes the Senate floor.
“It was my job to get it authorized,” he said. “So I had no involvement after that.”
Part of the problem is that the Defense authorization bill, which gives the Appropriations committees the official authority to dole out money to the Pentagon, has been stalled in conference negotiations for months over various issues, most notably McCain’s insistence that an Air Force-Boeing lease deal be scrapped.
McCain has charged that the Boeing deal to lease 100 tanker planes over several years would cost much more than simply buying the planes outright. Meanwhile, the Defense Department has argued that the plan will expend less money in the short-term and that they don’t currently have enough money to buy the planes.
While Armed Services negotiators in both chambers say they have made some progress toward resolving their differences on the Boeing lease deal and other issues, it is unclear whether the bill will actually become law this year.
Still, McCain was optimistic.
“Because we’ve never been without an authorization bill [for the Defense Department], I assume we won’t [go without one] this year,” McCain said.