WASHINGTON — Rep. Don Young of Alaska plans to barrel through the Republican Party's ban on earmarks by submitting requests regardless of his party's one-year moratorium on the practice.
So will he get any? No one seems to know, because Republicans have never done this before. Young, a prolific earmarker who's deeply unhappy with the recently enacted GOP ban, so far appears to be the only Republican who's submitting any requests, which were due late Monday.
This year, Young's office has received 289 requests totaling $1.4 billion from various groups, communities and boroughs in Alaska, as well as from the state of Alaska, said his spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny. She added that they were still deciding which projects would be recommended, but that those most likely to get a nod would focus on job creation — their contribution to Alaska's economy — and health care.
"We will be submitting requests as we always have," Kenny said. "Representative Young's stance is that as long as Alaskans continue to request federal funding for their projects of interest, he will continue requesting that funding on their behalf."
Since the top Republican on each of the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittees won't budget any earmarks as part of the process, however, it will be Democrats who decide whether earmarks are granted. Young, who's one of the most senior members of the House, has little to lose by flouting the GOP ban.
Ultimately, the decision on whether Alaska will get any earmarks could filter all the way up to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.
Critics long have maintained that the special spending allows powerful lawmakers — not merit — to determine where the money goes. The check on earmarks started earlier this month when Democrats decided to ban earmarks to for-profit companies. They shifted such spending to the Defense Department budget, where small and disadvantaged businesses could present innovative ideas in a competitive bidding process, rather than through earmarks.
Republicans responded with a one-year, flat-out ban on earmarks in appropriations bills. Privately, some Republican congressmen grumbled, but Young so far has been the only one to say he'll sidestep the moratorium.
Young, the only congressman known to a generation of Alaskans, is perhaps best known for earmarks in the $286 billion highway bill that he oversaw in 2005 as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. The bill contained $452 million for the Gravina Island and Knik Arm spans, which became known nationally as "bridges to nowhere" and came to symbolize the excess of the earmark age.
Because of Young's prolific earmarking and the skillful earmarking of Republican former Sen. Ted Stevens, earmarks to the state have come to be known by the House Appropriations Committee under the catchphrase "sweaters for salmon."
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