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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Earmarks Survive In All but Name - Congress banned money for pet projects, but lawmakers remain eager to prove they can still bring home the bacon.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Congress three years ago banned earmarks—money for pet projects that had become synonymous with wasteful spending. But the spending bill that became law this month shows that lawmakers remain eager to prove to voters that they can still bring home the bacon.

As they traveled their districts during last week's congressional recess, legislators nationwide touted local benefits in the $1.012 trillion spending bill.

Kansas lawmakers spotlighted the money for a research facility and military-base expansion. For Georgia, the spending bill expedited a Savannah port-dredging project. For Arkansas, there was money to keep an Air National Guard base in business.
 
The bill, the first comprehensive spending measure in more than two years, has given lawmakers their best opportunity in some time to show their constituents they can direct federal spending and policy benefits to home districts.
 
"This wasn't just a lucky kind of thing," Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) told a local TV station about the military funding. "This is from me working with the Pentagon, working with the administration and House and Senate Democrats and Republicans to try to get this done."
 
Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees said the local projects in the bill did not violate Congress's ban on earmarking, the process that had channeled money to favored projects and companies, often sidestepping any competitive process of ranking proposed projects. Most of the approved projects had been requested by the administration or subjected to competitive review.
 
Both the House and Senate passed rules banning earmarks by early 2011. Amid a tea party-fueled push to restrain federal spending, many lawmakers had come to argue that these projects were wasteful spending that advanced narrow political interests.
 
"The name 'earmark' has become poisonous, but the idea of being able to address specific needs is not," said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.), senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. "It's something to talk about when you go home."
 
Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) voted for the spending bill and claimed credit for two tranches of money destined for his home state—$404 million for a facility at Kansas State University to study animal disease and $219 million to expand an Air Force base in Wichita.
 
The new spending bill contains projects and provisions that could give ammunition to both sides in a number of Senate races.
 
Both Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) and the leading Republican candidate in her fight for re-election in 2014, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R., La.), have claimed credit for a provision to delay for one year a planned increase in flood-insurance premiums. Both voted for the bill.
 
Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.), who is running in a crowded GOP primary field for a Senate seat, faced a particularly ticklish dilemma. As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, he was well positioned to shape the bill. He used that influence to advance a provision to expedite federal funding of a huge infrastructure project crucial to Georgia, the dredging of Savannah harbor.
 
It was a coup, but Mr. Kingston voted against the bill on grounds that it spent too much overall. He was the only member of the appropriations committee to vote against the measure, a move that colleagues attributed to him facing a primary slate of Republicans competing to establish themselves as the most conservative candidate.
 
In Arkansas, Mr. Pryor's GOP opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, voted against the spending bill, in part because be believed it cost too much. But Mr. Pryor—a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee—has been touting the many provisions the bill included to benefit the state.

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