Congressional Leadership Should Just Say ?No? to $24 Billion in Earmarks


On September 16, President George W. Bush said he would rebuild America’s Gulf Coast – a job that may ultimately cost nearly $200 billion. “You bet it’s going to cost money. But I’m confident we can handle it,” he said. “It’s going to mean that we’re going to have to cut unnecessary spending.”

Bush was right. But Congress has failed to show the leadership to say no to the age-old practice of earmarking, when members of Congress, working behind closed doors and with no scrutiny, slip their pet projects into huge spending bills. Indeed, just six weeks ago, the President signed a $286 billion transportation bill containing more than 6,000 pet projects for Members of Congress.

These “earmarked” projects will cost a staggering $24 billion or nearly 40 percent of the amount Congress has set aside for the Katrina relief effort so far. Still, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told The Washington Post Thursday that the transportation bill “is exactly the highway bill we need.”

Common Cause disagrees.

“We’re seeing a leadership failure right now,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. “President Bush and Members of Congress in charge of the appropriations process are supposed to make hard choices, not just dole out the goodies and be popular. We need responsible leaders willing to say no to lawmakers with their hands out — our nation has greater needs now than pet projects in home districts.”

So, while Hurricane Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast wait for aid from the federal government, others will get the goodies in the highway bill. Here are a few examples:

$231 million for a bridge in Alaska named for Rep. Don Young (R-AK) connecting Ketchikan to an island inhabited by 50 people.

$207 million for building the proposed Prairie Parkway, a road in the district of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).

$100 million to study a transit project linking Detroit and Ann Arbor.

$50 million to rebuild a road in Montana’s Glacier National Park.

$3 million for an Alaskan documentary.

$3 million for dust control mitigation on Arkansas rural roads.

$2.3 million for landscaping along the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California.

$2.6 million for the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Corridor in Virginia.

$1.6 million for the Blue Ridge Music Center in Connecticut.

$1 million for a wood composite project at the University of Maine; and

$1 million to build a traffic circle in Vermont.

The appropriations bill now pending in the Senate that would finalize these projects also contains some $330 million in earmarks, including:

$400,000 for an expanded kitchen at a caf‘ in Anchorage, AK.

$950,000 to build a Boy Scouts camp near Talkeetna, AK.

$200,000 for the San Francisco Museum for the Old Mint Restoration project.

$600,000 for restoring the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.

$250,000 to help build an Easter Seals (not sure about this) facility in Georgetown, DE.

$1 million for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Plan in Idaho.

$600,000 for Kentucky to develop a visitor center at Big Bone Lick State Park, and

$200,000 to revitalize and rebuild Lancaster Square in Lancaster, PA.

Common Cause opposes the practice of “earmarking” projects. That’s when a Member of Congress inserts into legislation language seeking funding for a pet project at home. The understanding is that the request will not undergo the scrutiny it would otherwise receive if not tacked to a giant spending bill. Some 6,000 earmarked projects were inserted into the transportation bill this year without any debate or consideration by the committees as to its value or necessity.

But earmarking at a time when our nation is simultaneously trying to rebuild a large swath of the Gulf Coast and a foreign country is unconscionable. Common Cause calls on Congress to revisit some of the some of the more parochial spending decisions it made before Katrina and weigh them against our current national and international needs and commitments.

Common Cause has launched the “Eye on the Gulf” campaign to hold Congress, the Administration and state and local governments accountable for actions in the aftermath of Katrina. We have also called for an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate the government’s response to the storm.