House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) has handed Republican lawmakers a golden (literally) opportunity to end earmarking during the current session of Congress. (In our new book, Outrage, we highlight how abuse of earmarking costs taxpayers $64 billion — three times what it was just a few years ago.)
According to Tuesday's New York Times, Obey warned Republicans that “he would ban earmarking completely if Republicans attacked individual projects to score political points.” What an opportunity for the GOP!
Republicans forgot how to act like the fiscal conservatives they were supposed to be when they controlled Congress and permitted earmarks to proliferate. Now, they can atone for their sins by attacking individual earmarks issued by specific Democrats, and by challenging Obey to make good on his threat.
Republicans need go no further than attacking the earmarks of Congressman Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.), who's currently under federal investigation. Until the FBI started looking at him, Mollohan was the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee! (Is it any wonder why Congressional approval now stands at 23 percent in the polls?)
Mollohan has a cute racket going. He gets earmarks inserted into spending bills for non-profit organizations in his home state — some of which he helped to set up — and then he goes into real estate deals with the heads of these same organizations and makes a killing.
For example, Mollohan got $30 million of tax money since 1999 for the Vandalia Heritage Foundation, which redevelops dilapidated buildings. Then, he and his wife bought five empty lots on Bald Head Island, N.C. — worth $2 million — with Laura Kurtz Kuhns, the head of the Vandalia Heritage Foundation, and her husband!
He pulled the same trick by buying a farm for $900,000 with Dale R. McBride as his partner after getting McBride’s company, FMW Composite Systems, $4.4 million in earmarks to make equipment for NASA and the Marine Corps.
Of course, stopping Obey from putting earmarks in appropriations bills will require some earmark addicts among the Republicans to quit cold turkey. Specifically, the two leading earmarkers in Congress — Senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, both Republicans — will have to stop their massive spending of taxpayers’ money.
Senator Stevens got $325 million in earmarks in the 2006 appropriations cycle, which works out to $500 for every man, woman, and child in Alaska. He lavished our money on a $1.3 million program of berry research, $1.1 million for alternative salmon projects, and $500,000 for fruit and berry crop trials.
Senator Thad Cochran, who postures as a fiscal conservative, spent our money for a $5.7 million grant for the Wildlife Habitat Management Institute, $1.4 million for Mississippi Valley State University, $936,000 to study “advanced spatial technologies,” $517,000 for aquaculture research, and $50,000 for cotton ginning research (presumably to supplement the efforts of Eli Whitney who invented the cotton gin in 1793.)
Republicans need to start acting like Republicans, not drunken, big spending Democrats, and stopping earmarks is a good way to start. As Dave Obey might say, "be his guest!"