Politics & Government

GOP hates earmarks - except the ones its members sponsor

WASHINGTON — Republicans are expected to deliver a daylong rant Wednesday against Democratic spending legislation, yet the bill is loaded with thousands of pet projects that Republican lawmakers inserted.

Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, included $142,500 for emergency repairs to the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham, Texas. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., joined state colleagues to include $1.425 million for Nevada "statewide bus facilities." The top two Republicans on Congress' money committees also inserted local projects.

In all, an estimated $3.8 billion worth of specific projects, called "earmarks," are in the $410 billion spending bill that the House of Representatives is to vote on Wednesday. Easy passage is expected. The Senate is expected to act soon, too, since federal agencies will run out of money a week from Friday unless new funds are enacted.

House Democrats estimate that Republicans inserted 40 percent of the earmarks in the bill. An independent budget watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the 60-40 Democratic-Republican ratio followed historical patterns.

Earmarks are back even though both parties' presidential candidates criticized them sharply last year. As recently as last week, President Barack Obama boasted that his economic stimulus plan was earmark-free.

The House measure would fund most domestic programs for the remaining seven months of fiscal 2009 at a level 8 percent higher than last year. Many Republicans want a spending freeze instead.

"That's exactly what we should do," said Ensign, the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

Still, he vigorously defended his earmark requests.

"The reason I've been opposed" to earmarks in the past "is that it's often a way of buying votes, and it often makes the spending packages too big," he said. "They're just not going to buy my vote with anything."

House Republican leaders are even more insistent that the bill is wasteful.

"It does have 9,000 earmarks in it. And (that's) just another example of how Washington is really good at wasting people's money," House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana sidestepped questions about the earmarks, however, saying that disclosure is what matters most.

"I'd like to see us put the spending into daylight, and we can have that debate," he said.

There's plenty to debate.

Hall, whose office didn't respond to requests for comment, boasts on his Web site that "I support efforts to eliminate wasteful spending and slow the rate of growth in government."

His earmark would help a museum that honors Rayburn, the legendary Democratic House leader of the mid-20th century.

He's hardly alone.

Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, would spend $3.8 million on a Needles, Calif., highway.

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on Senate Appropriations, backs earmarks including a $950,000 nature education center in Moss Point, Miss. He defends earmarks.

"You have to take these on a case-by-case basis," he said. "A lot of these projects are justified."

One prominent Republican critic, however, wouldn't relent. When he was asked what Obama should do with a bill full of earmarks, Sen. John McCain of Arizona said flatly: "I would call on him to veto it."


Fiscal 2009 spending bill text

Transportation, housing and economic development earmarks

The Sam Rayburn Library and Museum


Big stimulus bill sparks long-term fiscal fears

Earmark reform? 2009 spending bill contains 9,000 of them

Obama's deficit plan based on optimistic assumptions

Related stories from McClatchy DC