Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a leading foe of earmarks that Congresspeople use to bring federal bacon back to their home districts to fund pet projects, first claimed seven months ago that freshmen Republicans had helped to secretly fill the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 with earmarks. Now her staff has completed a report she says confirms it.
In the 225 amendments passed by the House Armed Services Committee during the markup of the bill, McCaskill said Monday in a statement on her website, "an astonishing 113—more than half the total passed—were earmarks. These 113 earmarks valued at $841 million. Thirty-four additional amendments were found to have the appearance of being an earmark, but sufficient evidence could not be identified to make a conclusive determination."
Twenty of these were injected by freshman Republicans, her staff found. It was all part of an "elaborate scheme"
put in place by the House Armed Services Committee Chairman that was designed explicitly to allow his committee's members to earmark in violation of the ban on earmarks in Congress.
“This has to be a record turnaround for members of the House who claimed to be giving up their addiction to earmarks,” said McCaskill, who recently introduced bipartisan legislation to permanently ban earmarks from the legislative process. “These Representatives can insist all they want that they don’t do earmarking anymore—but if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. And it demonstrates exactly why we need my bipartisan legislation to permanently ban earmarks.”
Rep. Howard McKeon, the California Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, rejected McCaskill's claims first made to him in a letter in April. The process was not secret, but completely transparent, he said.
At the time of McCaskill's original claims, a spokesperson for the HASC also said everything was transparent and posted in advance on the committee's website. But the Missouri senator said neither the amounts nor their intended recipients were obvious in the posted material. And, she said, there was a billion-dollar "slush" fund set up to make matters opaque.
Some 75 of the 113 items McCaskill's staff labeled earmarks were introduced by Democrats. But they did not impose a ban on themselves. Twenty of the earmarks were introduced by freshmen Republicans. Not the first time that the 2010 freshmen class has sought to lard up spending bills with pork, and no doubt not the last.
President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that contains earmarks. McCaskill, together with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, called for a permanent ban on earmarks last week.
The problem with that is, as even some of the most avid opponents discovered after the Republican ban, not all earmarks are bad. Most aren't for a bridge to nowhere or some other cockamamie proposal that spends millions to benefit a handful of well-connected people.
And while McCaskill's diligence in proving the case she made last spring is admirable, the Pentagon budget is infected with many worse problems than earmarks, as in, it's about twice as spendy as it should be. Could somebody put their staff's nose to the grindstone on that?