Debt Watch
Political Outrage and Hypocrisy Over Spending Earmarks
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - 3:46pm
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updated 6:20 p.m.

The $1.1 trillion bill released by Senate Democrats Tuesday full of more than 6,000 earmarks totaling $8 billion has touched off an uproar on Capitol Hill, with Republicans voicing outrage that Democrats “still don’t get” Americans’ disgust with such spending practices even though GOP lawmakers added many of the pet projects to the measure.

"The American people said just 42 days ago, 'Enough!' . . . Are we tone deaf? Are we stricken with amnesia?" Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading earmark critic, said on the Senate floor, flipping through the 1,924-page bill as he pounded his desk.

Then Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and John Thune, R-S.D., held a press conference Wednesday to complain that, "The bill is loaded up with pork projects, and it shouldn't get a vote." Thune said.

But reporters pointed out that Thune and Cornyn have tens of millions of dollars for their own earmarks in the bill, including Thune's  request for $8 million for B-1 bomber fleet maintenance and Cornyn's request for $1.6 million for the Texas Army National Guard Counter-Drug Task Force.

Thune and Cornyn weren't the only senators with large earmark requests. According to a preliminary database from the nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, the top two earmarkers are the Republican senators from Mississippi: Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker. Collectively Cochran and Wicker have 486 earmarks totaling $937 million. Sen. Patty Murray D-Wash. has 184 earmarks worth $219 million and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-NV. has 151 earmarks $180.3 million. Last but not least, a committed anti-earmark crusader, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky. has 42 earmarks totaling more than $86 million.

The 1,924 page bill unveiled by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, comes weeks after lawmakers embraced a moratorium on earmarks.

“It’s a disappointment that essentially that despite all of the rhetoric and the moratorium that was passed by the House and Senate it just fell on deaf ears,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of the watch dog Tax Payers for Common Sense. “In some respects it’s not surprising considering Senator Inouye, Senator Cochran and Senator Reid are all very eager and enthusiastic ear markers.”

But what exactly is in this mammoth bill? We asked Taxpayers for Common Sense to help us out sift through some of the lawmaker’s special projects.
                                                                                                                              
So far, the group has found 6,600 congressionally disclosed earmarks in the FY11 Omnibus spending bill totaling $8 billion. They expect to find more earmarks that aren’t disclosed by Congress but that they consider an earmark, such as the $450 million alternate engine for the joint strike fighter.

This year’s earmarks compare to the 9,400 congressionally disclosed earmarks in the FY10 spending bills worth $10 billion. It’s slightly less than last year reflecting the House Republican moratorium and the House Democrats decision to not pursue for-profit company earmarks, said Ellis.

Here are some of the earmark highlights:

Listed under Defense:
-- $10 million for the non-profit John P. Murtha Foundation and another $8 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate 
--$21.7 million (the largest Defense request) for a Gulf Coast land-based test facility
--$21 million, coming in at a close second, is a Hawaii Federal Health Care System

Listed under Agriculture:
--$1 million for Arthropod Damage Control (in case you are wondering this means controlling insects such as grasshoppers, butterflies, beetles, and ants)
--$650,000 for Advanced Genetic Technologies (earmarked by McConnell, who has vowed to reject the bill)
-$4,841,000 for wood utilization or for projects to figure out “new things” to do with wood

Listed under Transportation:
--$1 million for Surface Transportation Investments: Monongalia Health Systems
--$500,000 at the Bronx Zoo in New York to alleviate traffic congestion and improve access
--$2.5 million for pedestrian and bicycling road and trail improvements in Illinois

Listed under Department of Homeland Security:
--$40 million to build a national bio and agro-defense facility in Kansas (it would be to study foreign animal, emerging and zoonotic diseases that threaten the U.S. animal agriculture and public health.)

Listed under Interior:
--$15 million for emissions reduction grants
--$6 million for land acquisition in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge 

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