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McCaskill Restarts the Debate on Earmarks

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Claire McCaskill sent a letter to House Armed Services Committee leaders last week questioning amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee are defending their version of the Defense authorization bill, disputing Sen. Claire McCaskill's charges that the legislation includes forbidden earmarks.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the panel pushed back late last week against the Missouri Democrat's characterization of the legislation as including a billion-dollar slush fund that used amendments to create a process tantamount to earmarks.

The legislation was the first test of the House Republicans' pledged earmark moratorium. And while traditional earmarks were prohibited in the bill, Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) did create a process by which Members could draft amendments that would direct extra funding to project categories.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a senior member of the Armed Services panel, said the process of using "plus-ups" in the bill complies with the House Republicans earmark ban.

"Instead of putting money for specific projects or a specific place, we put it in for a generic thing," the Maryland Republican said, noting that companies must competitively bid for these contracts. Bartlett said the funding was necessary for the country's military defense to stay competitive with China and Russia.

Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews also disputed McCaskill's allegation.

"I disagree with the Senator. I think that she is unduly broadly defining what an earmark is," the New Jersey lawmaker said.

Andrews put in a "plus-up" for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. But he contends it isn't an earmark because although Lockheed Martin is a contractor for the system now, the company will be only one of the bidders on the infusion of funds and won't be guaranteed to secure the contract.

"There is specific language in the bill that the Department of Defense must conduct a competitive process to determine what to do with any of that extra money," Andrews said.

The dustup over the National Defense Authorization Act comes after McCaskill sent a May 26 letter to McKeon and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) saying she would vociferously oppose the House-passed bill because she believed it was structured to get around the House GOP's moratorium on earmarks.

"If necessary, I will also seek language in a conference between the House and Senate that will ensure that any earmarks included in your bill, should they survive to become law, will undergo the most extensive scrutiny and transparency possible upon implementation," McCaskill wrote.

The longtime opponent of earmarks also said it was "disappointing and disingenuous" that Armed Services had "instituted a process that allows members of your Committee to circumvent the ban through the use of non-transparent amendments that effectively act as traditional earmarks."

McCaskill's staff is doing a thorough analysis of the House-passed bill, according to a Congressional aide.

McKeon spokesman Josh Holly disputed McCaskill's claims.

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