An Earmark By Any Other Name Would Smell As Porky

David Williams

May 31, 2011

Leading up to the election last year there was quite a bit of talk about eliminating earmarks from the federal budget so Democrats and Republicans agreed to a two year earmark moratorium.  Taxpayers weren’t sure if it was a just a ploy to get re-elected or if Congress had truly seen the light and decided that it was time to end the practice of earmarking.  In April, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance uncovered earmarks in the fiscal year 2011 NASA and Department of Defense spending bills indicating that Congress had not been broken of the bad habit of earmarking.

Now, it appears that Congress is helping itself to more earmarks in the fiscal year 2012 Defense Authorization Bill.  According to CNN on May 28, 2011, “The defense bill that just passed the House of Representatives includes a back-door fund that lets individual members of Congress funnel millions of dollars into projects of their choosing….Under the cloak of a mysteriously-named ‘Mission Force Enhancement Transfer Fund,’ Congress has been squirreling away money — like $9 million for ‘future undersea capabilities development,’ $19 million for ‘Navy ship preliminary design and feasibility studies,’ and more than $30 million for a ‘corrosion prevention program.’”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) accused the House of Representatives of adding this slush fund to finance earmarks in a May 31, 2011 Roll Call article.  “McCaskill sent a May 26 letter to McKeon and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) saying she would vociferously oppose the House-passed bill because she believed it was structured to get around the House GOP’s moratorium on earmarks.” Among the members of Congress who are are disputing the designation of these projects as earmarks is Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) who said that “I disagree with the Senator. I think that she is unduly broadly defining what an earmark is.”

The claim is that the money will be competitively awarded and one contractor will not be favored over another.  However, Sen. McCaskill points out in the Roll Call article that Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) offered an amendment that would direct $7 million to “innovative nanomaterials and nonmanufacturing processes.”  The money would go to a university adjacent to the Rep. Gibson’s district, close enough considering that there are quite logically constituents of Rep. Gibson that are employed by the university.

Even if these new slush funds are technically not earmarks, there is still plenty to be worried about because Congress is obviously looking for new ways around the earmark ban.

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