Ex-Members Get Earmarks

Spending Measure Carries Leftover Earmarks

Posted February 24, 2009 at 6:37pm

Former Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) is out of Congress, but that apparently won’t stop him from getting millions of dollars worth of earmarks in the sprawling spending bill that the House is expected to vote on today.

The omnibus appropriations bill introduced Monday by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) includes thousands of specific spending items, including dozens of projects worth tens of millions of dollars requested by people who are no longer Members of Congress.

The bill also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks requested by a president who is no longer in office. The dozens of projects identified as being requested by “the President” were actually requested by the Bush administration. House Democrats have included many of these projects in the bill while simultaneously issuing a press release excoriating the Bush administration for failing to work with Congress to get the bills done last year.

During a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) told Members that he hoped they would continue to stick together to oppose the omnibus appropriations bill, though sources said this could be difficult because of the presence of earmarks that many Members view as critical to their electoral survival.

The legislation includes the nine spending bills that Congress failed to pass last year, and carries a price tag of about $410 billion, according to Obey. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation after it passes the House and will not be crafting its own measure, Senate staffers said Tuesday.

By most accounts, the omnibus spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2009 includes about 8,500 earmarks, though the exact total depends on how “earmark” is defined. The total value of the earmarks is estimated by Taxpayers for Common Sense at about $7.7 billion, which when added to the appropriations bills that did pass last year totals about $14.3 billion in earmarks for fiscal 2009. The TCS says that would be about a $500 million decrease from the prior year’s earmark total.

Since the bill is essentially a completion of the legislative process begun in the 110th Congress, it includes dozens of earmarks that were proposed in the 110th Congress by Members who have since left the campus.

Some of these Members have left public service entirely. For instance, the bill includes $200,000 for the Boone, Mo., county sheriff; $475,000 for a railroad overpass in Columbia, Mo.; and $238,000 for a “Telehealth Resource Center” connected to the University of Missouri. Each of these projects was requested by former Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), who left the House to run unsuccessfully for governor. No other Member requested the funding for the projects.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), who took Hulshof’s seat, was not consulted on the Missouri earmarks, according to his spokesman Keith Beardslee. Luetkemeyer “believes the process needs more transparency and accountability and is not requesting earmarks,” his spokesman said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who defeated incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon in a primary last year, has been posting Twitter messages attacking the appropriations bill. “Omnibus Spending has 9,000+ earmarks,” he wrote Tuesday, “0 from me.”

But the bill does include several earmarks from Cannon that would benefit Chaffetz’s district, such as $300,000 for a water pump station in Riverton City, Utah.

“I think that’s a good project … but it’s not something I asked for,” Chaffetz told Roll Call. “I had no idea that that was in there until you mentioned it.”

Chaffetz said that it is appropriate in general for Congress to direct federal spending but that “this is a failed, nontransparent process. When it is dropped in under the cloak of darkness, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

Chaffetz said he was surprised to find holdover earmarks in the spending bill. “I thought we were supposed to start the 111th Congress with a fresh slate, but I guess it didn’t happen, in part because the 110th Congress didn’t do their job.”

Among ex-Members, Hobson’s earmarks stand out. As ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies in the 110th Congress, Hobson is listed as a sponsor of more than a dozen earmarks in that section of the bill alone. On several of these, Hobson is the only sponsor listed, including $3.8 million for a “secure advanced supercomputing platform” and $1.4 million each for Wilberforce University and Central State University.

Some earmarks in the bill have multiple sponsors who have left the building, such as a $1.9 million “center for excellence and hazardous materials” in New Mexico, sponsored by former Rep. Steve Pearce (R), who ran for Senate and lost, and retired Sen. Pete Domenici (R).

The bill is also laced with earmarks that were requested by Members who have since bolted for the administration. Former Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is now the White House chief of staff but is listed as the sole sponsor of a $1 million earmark for “Great Lakes restoration” at Northwestern University and $1.2 million for a project in the Chicago Public Schools.

Former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) — now the secretary of Transportation — has several transportation earmarks in the bill, including $480,000 for paratransit vehicles in two Illinois transit districts.

The House Appropriations Committee also counts as an earmark any specific project that the administration seeks funding for as part of its budget request, so the bill is filled with dozens of projects attributed to “the President,” worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of these are multimillion-dollar Army Corps of Engineers projects for dam maintenance and waterway operations.

The bill makes clear that the earmarks were requested by former President George W. Bush, and the White House did not reply to several inquiries to ask whether President Barack Obama had been consulted as to which projects remained in the bill.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said the problem with including earmarks that were sponsored by former Members is that “it’s really hard to hold any of these people accountable.” It also allows Congress to “predetermine what should be funded in a new Member’s district.”

But a Democratic staffer argues that the earmarks in the bill have been fully vetted and that the Members who requested them had to certify at the time that they had no conflict of interest.

Had the process been completed by the end of last year, these provisions would have been in the bills, this source said. In addition, the disclosure system implemented in the 110th Congress now allows for all of these Members’ earmarks to be located with a simple search of the online version of the bill, allowing for more transparency than ever.

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.