Earmark foes spend on defense
GOP freshmen’s pet projects in bill
Tuesday, May 24, 2011 03:05 AM
BY DONNA CASSATA
WASHINGTON – Hard-charging Republicans who rallied voters last year with cries of “Stop the spending, ban the earmarks” quietly are offering a more-familiar Washington refrain now that they’r e in Congress.
The whopping $553 billion bill providing a budget for the Pentagon boasts millions of dollars that President Barack Obama didn’t request for weapons programs, installations and other projects in districts from Illinois to Mississippi represented by House GOP freshmen.
The additions look suspiciously like the pet projects that Republicans prohibited when they took over the House and that the new class of lawmakers, many with tea party backing, swore off in a promise to change Washington’s spending habits.
Heated campaign talk of reining in spending and barring earmarks often cools once candidates get to Congress and face the needs and demands of their districts, especially in times of wobbly economic recovery and a widespread shortage of jobs.
The House began work on the bill yesterday and is scheduled to vote on it this week. Republicans on the Armed Services Committee insist the additions are not earmarks.
The chairman, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., told the Rules Committee yesterday, “There are no earmarks in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012. Every member request to fund a defense capability was voted on and includes language requiring merit-based or competitive selection procedures.”
Each addition carries a disclaimer that says a decision to spend these budgetary requests must be based on competition or merit.
Statements that Republican freshmen churned out within hours of the committee’s vote this month suggest otherwise.
A provision added to Obama’s budget request would provide an additional $2.5 million for weapons and munitions advanced technology, money for the Quad City Manufacturing Lab at the Rock Island Arsenal in freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling’s Illinois district. The lab conducts research and development on titanium, lightweight composites and other advanced materials.
A statement from the congressman’s office said he “offered amendments to expand support for advanced manufacturing techniques and capital improvements at arsenals.”
Schilling, who was born and raised in Rock Island, also said, “I am honored to have the opportunity to represent the hard-working men and women at the Rock Island Arsenal.”
During his 2010 campaign against Democratic Rep. Phil Hare, the tea party-backed, pizza-business owner Schilling ran as a fiscal conservative and railed against Hare’s earmarking.
Schilling advocated voting on each amendment separately, saying anything less would be irresponsible.
In fact, the committee approved Schilling’s provision as part of a package of 19 amendments with little or no debate and no separate vote during some 16 hours of deliberations.
Schilling’s press secretary, Andie Pivarunas, said the process “has been transparent, and the Army will decide where this budget funding goes on a competitive or merit-based basis.”