WASHINGTON — Democrats, who have weathered criticism from Republicans over earmarks in recent months, are singling out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the more than $75 million in federal funds for Kentucky projects he requested along with other members of Congress in a $410 billion spending bill.
The federal funds for projects, or earmarks, McConnell asked for in the omnibus spending bill include $1.6 million for a forage animal production research laboratory in Lexington, $1.088 million for an animal waste management research lab in Bowling Green, $2.945 million for LexTran to purchase buses and $950,000 for a Western Kentucky University bikeway project, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that tracks federal spending.
McConnell took Democrats to task Tuesday for "legislation that is 8 percent above what was anticipated to be spent. That's clearly been plussed up by the new majority."
Democrats quickly struck back.
"It’s pretty clear we have a double standard here," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said on CNN Tuesday. Boulders are raining down on "people who live in glass houses. The leader of the Republican Party is getting twice as much in earmarks as the leader of the Democratic Party."
McCaskill, one of only a few Democratic senators who hasn’t requested earmarks for her state, has pledged to "out" Republican earmarks later this week during a speech on the Senate floor.
"Earmarking was taken to a new art form under the Republican Congress and President Bush," McCaskill said. "The Republicans in the Senate have lined up for billions and billions and billions of dollars. You can't have it both ways. You can't be half pregnant on this deal."
McConnell ranked ninth in a Taxpayers for Common Sense analysis of Senate earmark recipients and is solely listed as having requested more than $51 million worth of projects.
Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is listed as having solely requested more than $26 million in project funding and ranks sixteenth in such requests, he teamed up with other members of Congress in jointly requesting more than $108 million for projects.
McConnell defends his earmarks as projects that are necessary to help diversify the economy of Kentucky.
In public, McConnell has touted the projects he's brought home to Kentucky, and he has largely avoided criticizing earmarks — much to the chagrin of conservative members of his caucus who've taken no earmark pledges.
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., pledged Tuesday to remove his own earmarks, but stressed that doing so would hurt state programs.
Bunning requested more than $2.6 million in the spending measure including $1.3 million for the University of Kentucky to study coal to liquid fuels methods.
"I think it's irresponsible for the Democratic leadership to wait until the last minute (to reveal details of the omnibus spending bill). This bill contains billions of dollars of earmarks. There are 9,000 earmarks," Bunning told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. "Coal to liquids is for the good of the United States of America, but if you want to take that out that’s fine. There’s consequences to removing them."
McConnell doesn't suggest such steps to trim the type of spending that he describes as more "than the previous administration spent in seven years on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina combined."
Instead, as was the case during McConnell's interview on Fox News last week, the senator speaks more generally about wasteful spending, saying "the size of the pie is too big."
In the 110th Congress, McConnell charged a Republican task force with pursuing earmark reform. However, that group's efforts were stymied and their recommendations were never adopted by the Senate Republican Conference.
In the meantime, McConnell urged a slow approach when considering the $410 billion spending bill on Tuesday.
"We need to slow down, and make sure the American people understand how we intend to spend their tax dollars," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "The omnibus is a massive bill, it demands our close attention."