Both Parties Pile Earmarks Onto Spending Bill

Posted December 9, 2009 at 6:30pm

Updated: 7 p.m.

House Republicans trumpeting their efforts to rein in federal spending may have some difficulty explaining the $446.8 billion omnibus appropriations bill released Tuesday night, in which they have tucked thousands of pet projects totaling more than $1 billion.

The sweeping omnibus package, which House Democratic leaders are hoping to speed to the floor today, reflects a 12 percent increase in discretionary spending over last year and, according to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, includes 5,224 earmarks worth close to $4 billion. Republicans are responsible for roughly 40 percent of the spending.

Anti-earmark Republicans regularly blast the use of omnibus bills instead of individual spending bills taken up in regular order. The latest omnibus rolls together six outstanding spending bills: the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; Commerce, Justice and science; financial services and general government; Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; military construction and Veterans Affairs; and State and foreign operations.

This time around, some Republicans are coming down especially hard on their own party for tacking their local spending projects onto the bill at a time when so many Americans are struggling financially.

“It’s just flat-out greed at the wrong time in history. It’s greed. It’s playing the process to ingratiate your district. I, for one, just won’t play that game,— said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Chaffetz, a freshman who subscribes to a no-earmark policy, predicted that many GOP incumbents would be haunted by their efforts to increase spending in the 2010 midterm elections. “Too many of my colleagues don’t understand how severe our problems are,— he said. “There’s an anti-incumbent movement out there because people want to see the way business is done changed. It hasn’t changed.—

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the House’s biggest anti-earmark crusader, lamented “the complete and utter disconnect that there seems to be with what families are having to do in times like these and what the government is doing.—

Of particular frustration, Flake said, is that Members are securing their projects on a political basis instead of targeting them to create jobs. And despite Democratic leaders requiring lawmakers to post all earmarks on the Internet, Flake said that practice has done little to deter the last-minute mad dash to stuff pet projects into omnibus bills.

“I had hoped that actually listing names next to earmarks would dissuade some of the conduct that we’re seeing, but we have no shame here. That assumes that we can be shamed. That was proven not to happen,— Flake said.

Even Republicans who had previously sworn off earmarks have rejoined the gravy train, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who vice chairs the Republican Conference and chairs a GOP earmark reform task force that produced little. McMorris Rodgers has her name on 10 earmarks in the omnibus worth $20 million. Her office did not respond to a request to comment on this story.

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), a regular critic of Democrats’ spending levels, complained about the “appalling— level of spending in the omnibus.

But in the same breath, he said it doesn’t bother him that members of his party are tucking thousands of earmarks into the package since Americans are mostly upset over its size and scope, which is dictated by Democrats.

“I think the American people aren’t as much concerned about the details of these remaining spending bills as I think they will be about the magnitude of the bills themselves,— Pence said. He later added that he doesn’t request earmarks and continues to push for earmark reform.

Pence was one of several House and Senate party leaders who met with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to discuss the economy. During the meeting, Pence said he pressed Obama to cut back on federal spending and recommended that he veto the omnibus bill and keep the government funded at current levels.

“I don’t recall that he spoke to it,— Pence said of Obama’s response. “But I do recall the glare of several Democratic colleagues across the table.—

Stephen Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said it’s no surprise that Republicans don’t want to talk about the fact that they are benefiting from about 40 percent of earmark funds in the bill.

Regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control, “the minority goes along to get along— when it comes to securing earmarks, Ellis said. “As long as the minority is getting a piece of the action, they’re going to keep their mouths shut on the problems of earmarks.—

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) called it “hypocrisy in its classic form— that Republicans are touting their efforts to slash federal spending while quietly adding more than $1 billion in earmarks to the omnibus.

“This omnibus bill is going to be federal spending that they have the luxury of voting against because most of us Democrats will vote for it and pass it,— Hastings said. “They have it both ways.—

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is among those already drawing attention for his earmarks, or lack thereof, in the 1,088-page bill. For years, the former Republican obtained dozens of earmarks for abstinence education programs. Now, as a Democrat, Specter does not appear to have obtained single one.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.