Thursday, August 9, 2007

Rep. John P. Murtha”s justification for some of the $3 billion in pork projects in the Defense Department spending bill only fanned criticism from House Republicans and government-watchdog groups.

Mr. Murtha, chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, bristled when questioned on the House floor last week about pricey research-and-development projects doled out to businesses in districts of top Democrats — including his in Pennsylvania.

He told the chamber that the pork spending, known as earmarks, is awarded in a competitive bidding process by the Pentagon and that the technology developed with federal dollars would be the property of the U.S. government.

He”s got to know that”s not true, said Rep. John Campbell, California Republican. Clearly, the point of earmarks is they avoid the competitive bidding process.

He also doubted that an earmark could establish a contractual agreement for product ownership, as did Steve Ellis, vice president of the government-watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

I”ve looked at hundreds of thousands of earmarks over the years, and I”ve never seen one that stipulates ownership, Mr. Ellis said.

Mr. Campbell said he was seeking documentation from the Defense Department to refute Mr. Murtha”s claims and force him to retract the statements.

Mr. Murtha did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Murtha, who is one of the most prolific sponsors of earmarks in the Democrat-led Congress, defended the practice during debate Saturday night when questioned by Mr. Campbell and Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

I think people around the country will be appalled … to see Mr. Murtha stand up and say these contracts are competitively bid. They are not, Mr. Flake said by telephone after returning home to Mesa, Ariz.

Mr. Flake commended new ethics rules passed this year that disclose more earmarks, but he lamented that the lawmakers allow the practice to flourish, regardless of what is disclosed.

Ultimately, the system will change when people on the outside say, This is enough,” he said.

The bill contained 1,337 earmarks worth $3 billion, with $150 million in pork sponsored by Mr. Murtha.

Under the new rules, the number of earmarks in the defense bill dropped from the $10 billion in last year”s bill, but Mr. Murtha”s share of pork nearly doubled now that he is chairman, according to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Pork in this year”s defense bill includes $2.5 million sponsored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to refurbish a parade ground in San Francisco”s Presidio park and $2 million sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Ohio Democrat and chairman of the ethics committee, for Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams paint company to develop a paint shield for protecting people from microbial threats.

Mr. Murtha sponsored a $39 million earmark for the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) in Johnstown, Pa., which is part of his district.

He faced a House censure in May when he threatened to withhold all pork projects for Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, in retaliation for an attempt to kill a $23 million earmark for NDIC in an intelligence bill. The motion for censure failed in a party-line vote.

During debate of the defense bill, which passed with the $3 billion of pork intact, Mr. Murtha said the earmarks are vetted scrupulously.

We go over every single earmark, he said. We don”t apologize for them because we think the members know as much about what goes on in their district as [do] the bureaucrats and the Defense Department.

Earmarks by Republicans, which also were challenged by Mr. Flake, included $1 million requested by Rep. C.W. Bill Young for Marine Desalination Systems Inc. in his Florida district.

Mr. Young, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, sponsored $117 million in pork.

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