- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reid’s earmark pride

President Obama may have asked Congress to reduce the number of earmarks in its spending bills, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, isn’t cutting back on his pork.

The Senate’s most powerful Democrat secured 36 earmarks worth more than $89 million in the fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill, according to information provided by his office — a slight increase over the number of earmarks Mr. Reid secured in the fiscal 2009 defense appropriations bill. That year, he secured 33 earmarks worth more than $83 million.

Despite pledges from Mr. Obama that his Congress would reduce the number of earmarks slipped into spending bills, Mr. Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, said in an e-mail to The Washington Times that the majority leader was “proud” of his earmarks.

“We’re proud of each and every one because this money means jobs for a state that has suffered from this economy like no other,” Mr. Manley said.

After signing a massive omnibus spending bill last March that contained thousands of earmarks worth $7.7 billion, Mr. Obama said he would pressure Congress to reduce earmarks. Last week, however, Congress sent the president another omnibus spending bill with more than 5,000 earmarks tucked in it, costing taxpayers $4.9 billion.

Yet, there’s bipartisan agreement that the rampant practice must be clamped down upon. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Saturday blasting the earmarks as an act of “generational theft,” and Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, is calling on Mr. Obama to veto that bill, saying “Congress must be restrained.”

Yet, the earmarking continues. The separate bill to fund defense operations contains $4.9 billion in earmarks, $89.2 million of which belong to Mr. Reid.

Too big to veto

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration was trying to focus more on “keeping the government running” than any possible veto threats because of the pork barrel spending in the omnibus bill.

“Keeping the government running is an important thing,” he said during his Monday briefing with reporters. “I think you see within the legislation that there are - the number of earmarks is down. We’ve made progress on that. There’s no doubt we’ve still got a long way to go, but I think one of the goals obviously is to keep the government functioning.”

Census Jesus

In an attempt to convince Hispanics to participate in the 2010 census two large Hispanic evangelical groups are using Jesus, Joseph and Mary in a Christmas-themed pitch.

Esperanza and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference have designed a holiday poster that shows Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem to participate in the Roman census, as it says they did in the Gospel of Luke.

“This is how Jesus was born,” says the English version of the poster (there also is a Spanish edition). “Joseph and Mary participated in the census. Don’t be afraid.”

The poster, the groups say, is designed to ease fears some Hispanics have of the government and who may be unwilling to participate in the census.

Prison carols

No lawsuit is going to stop Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio from playing Christmas carols in his jails this winter.

Six lawsuits have already been filed against his policy of playing festive music, but the sheriff issued a defiant statement, in red and green letters no less, saying the practice would continue.

His statement, titled “And the Beat Goes On,” said: “The music is played in all jails, all day to the approximate 8,000 people incarcerated. Holiday music from all countries and faiths are included in the play list from Latin America to the Middle East.”

Four of the lawsuits against this policy, which claim “cruel and unusual punishment,” have been dismissed to date. The other two are pending.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@ washingtontimes.com.