The fight will continue Monday as Senate Democratic leaders fend off cuts to earmarks or other moves to reduce the bill’s price tag, which would boost spending 8 percent over 2008 levels - more than twice the rate of inflation.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has sworn off sponsoring earmarks, said they are “evil” because they have perverted the appropriations process.
He said earmarks were rare 25 years ago, but now lawmakers dole out billions of dollars each year at whim.
“The evil grew and grew, like any other evil,” Mr. McCain said. “While the American people are suffering under the worst recession since the Great Depression, we here in Congress not only are doing business as usual, we are wasting the taxpayers’ money at an incredible rate.”
Still, it is Mr. Obama’s stated commitment to earmark reform that put Capitol Hill Democrats on guard.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, last week defended earmarks as an “appropriate function” of Congress, even as she pledged to work with the White House to cut the number and increase transparency - but only after passage of the omnibus bill.
“The idea is lower number, more transparency, total accountability,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Democrats have made strides in reducing the number of earmarks and opening the process, including enacting rules mandating that each spending bill include a list of all earmarks and who sponsored them.
The number and value of earmarks in spending bills has dropped from the high point of about 10,000 earmarks worth $29 billion in the 2006 appropriation bills, according to data complied by the anti-pork crusaders Citizens Against Government Waste.
Democratic leaders argue that earmarks account for about 1 percent of spending in the omnibus. They say Republicans, who presided over a massive expansion in pork spending while they were in the majority party, are feigning outrage now to obstruct Mr. Obama’s agenda and score points with conservative voters.
“When I hear people come to the floor saying this is an outrage that all of these earmarks are in the bill, I think to myself, there’s nothing outrageous about this,” Mr. Durbin said. “We’ve bragged about it. We’ve had press conferences about it. The people of our city think it is money well spent.”
Mr. Durbin said Democrats are working to make the process more transparent and to reduce the number of earmarks. He goes a step further by posting on his office Web site a list of all projects he requests. The list currently has 177 items, including $3 million for a railroad overpass in Morrison, Ill., $300,000 for a reconnaissance study of Raccoon Lake in Centralia, Ill., and $500,000 to buy a digital mammography machine for Sinai Health System in Chicago.
“There is money in [the omnibus] as well going to hospitals to buy critical equipment. It’s all listed, every single hospital, every single dollar,” he said. “I try to help them out if I can. I think that is part of my job.”
Steven A Miller
By Jay Sekulow
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