Republicans Back on Earmark Train

Posted April 21, 2009 at 6:45pm

Earmark requests are back on the table for eight House Republicans who had sworn off the so-called pork last year, including the chairwoman of the GOP’s earmark reform task force.

Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) has headed the party’s effort to study how to fix the earmark process, although the panel has yet to produce anything.

But she nonetheless requested 35 earmarks worth more than $120 million — including $1 million for potato breeding research, $25 million to dredge the Columbia River and $3 million for military experiments with “anti-matter positrons.—

“Last year she refrained from requesting earmarks in order to bring attention to the need for better transparency and accountability in the process,— said her spokesman, Destry Henderson. “That was accomplished.—

Henderson noted that the GOP leadership adopted guidelines last year, such as not including “monuments to me— or “air-dropping— earmarks into conference reports.

Henderson said that the earmark task force is still trying to finish its report, although he declined to discuss specifics. “Her goal is to increase transparency and accountability,— he said.

According to the Congresswoman’s Web site, her budget requests meet “the gold standard of transparency and accountability.—

“I only submit projects that are a priority for the country and a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds,— she writes on the site. “I am against wasteful spending.—

However, if every Representative secured $120 million in earmarks, more than $50 billion would be spent in the House alone — far more than has ever been appropriated in one year.

McMorris Rodgers is not alone, as several other Republicans who swore off requesting earmarks in the 110th Congress have returned to the practice this year.

Among them are Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (D-Mich.) and GOP Reps. Dave Reichert (Wash.), Nathan Deal (Ga.), Joe Wilson (S.C.), Judy Biggert (Ill.), Todd Platts (Pa.) and Trent Franks (Ariz.).

Franks alone is seeking more than $373 million, while Wilson’s requests total more than $117 million, and Reichert is seeking more than $93 million. All together, the requests of the eight Members total about $900 million.

Some of the Members, like Camp, specifically praised the reforms already enacted by the House as the reason for their reversal and decision to seek the cash.

Camp took a two-year sabbatical from earmarks but is now requesting $11.4 million for 13 projects.

“There are enough reforms that I think I can do some limited requests,— he said. “There’s clearly transparency now, which there wasn’t before.—

Camp praised reforms requiring disclosure of all earmark requests on Members’ Web sites and a certification that Members have no financial interest in the earmark — two of the reforms enacted by House Democrats.

Camp limited his earmark requests to transportation and flood control projects for local governments in his district, in particular buses that he said will help the growing ranks of the unemployed in Michigan.

Camp said he would like to see more limits on the total amount spent on earmarks, and the total number, as well as a better definition of an earmark given that some projects are requested by entire delegations.

The Republicans’ decision to seek earmarks again drew criticism from Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, who called them “recidivist earmarkers.—

“People aren’t looking as much anymore so they’ll go back to the trough,— he said. “They are hitting the bottle again.—

Ellis said there was “no better example— than McMorris Rodgers being the head of the earmark panel and then deciding to seek them again.

He said earmarks are far more transparent than before, but that various problems — including the potential for pay-to-play, trading campaign contributions for taxpayer cash, and the passing out of cash based on seniority rather than merit — have not been addressed.

“You lead by example. … Those who play the game are part of the problem,— he said.

Ellis noted that despite the eight Republicans who have rejoined the earmark bandwagon, the total number forgoing earmarks will remain about the same.

According to the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth, seven freshman Republicans — Tom McClintock (Calif.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Tom Rooney (Fla.), Lynn Jenkins (Kan.), Leonard Lance (N.J.) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah) — are joining the moratorium bandwagon, along with freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick (Idaho).

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also announced that he would forgo earmarks this year after seeking them previously.

The total number of House Members forgoing earmarks appears roughly unchanged at around 40, according to a database maintained by Taxpayers for Common Sense, with a handful of Democrats joining the mostly Republican group. Seven Senators have sworn off earmarks, according to a list maintained by the Club for Growth.