Homeland Security Cardinal Frowns on Earmarks

Posted June 4, 2003 at 5:57pm

As they begin the process of funding a politically prominent new agency, House appropriators will try to keep the first formal Homeland Security spending bill free of earmarks, despite thousands of requests from Members.

The effort may be difficult, as earmarks traditionally find their way into all 13 annual appropriations bills, even the legislative branch measure. But Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, has already told panel members and K Street lobbyists that he plans to do his best to keep the bill clean.

“The message is pretty clear that they’re trying to stay away from earmarks,” said a lobbyist familiar with the situation, adding that appropriators seemed concerned about what kind of precedent they would set with this first bill. “Once you start down that road [of earmarking] it’s hard to turn back.”

In an interview Tuesday, Rogers stopped short of saying the bill would be absolutely free of earmarks, but he did say he would try to keep them to a minimum. “I’m going to encourage that,” the Kentucky lawmaker said.

The push comes despite the fact that Members have already begun clamoring for money for their local first responders and pet projects. An Appropriations spokesman said the committee had received “nearly 2,000 requests” so far.

Those requests include everything from a new fire truck for a local fire department to new walkie talkies for small-town sheriffs.

Pork-barrel projects are funded every year, usually with little political fallout for Members. The concern that appropriators have regarding the Homeland Security bill, according to aides and Members involved in the process, is that the issue of federal money for first responders has already become politicized. Favoring one local law-enforcement body over another for parochial reasons could bring unwanted criticism.

Some sources on and off the Hill suggested that Rogers had already discussed the issue with Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of that chamber’s Homeland Security subcommittee, and that the Senator had agreed to make a similar anti-earmark effort on his version of the bill.

Cochran’s office did not return a call seeking comment.