October 22, 2014

McCaskill on the warpath against earmarks in defense bill

Senator Claire McCaskill says she’s found more than a hundred earmarks hidden in the House Defense bill.

Missouri’s senior senator has been outspoken about opposing earmarks in Congress almost since first taking office. After an investigation, she says she has found that the House Armed Services Committee approved 225 amendments, and 115 of them are earmarks … more than $834 million in proposed federal spending.

McCaskill cited the Senate’s ban on earmarks and demanded in a letter that the House remove them in conference. She says the chairman of the Armed Services Committee has said he would strip $700 million from the bill.

She says Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-California), by agreeing to cut the nearly $1 billion earmarks, is an admission and “undeniable proof that his committee flouted the earmark ban.”

She says the earmarks were secretly attached to the House’s National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA) by the House Armed Services Committee.

“This has to be a record turnaround for members of the House who claimed to be giving up their addiction to earmarks,” she says, noting that she recently introduced bipartisan legislation to permanently ban earmarks from the legislative process.

“These Representatives can insist all they want that they don’t do earmarking anymore-but if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” she says, “and it demonstrates exactly why we need my bipartisan legislation to permanently ban earmarks.”

McCaskill released the conclusions of her investigation in a press release:

·           Of the 225 amendments to the legislation that were approved by the House Armed Services Committee, an astonishing 115 were found to be earmarks, amounting to $834 million in proposed federal spending.

·           An additional 31 spending amendments passed by the Committee appear to be earmarks, but sufficient evidence is not available for a conclusive determination.

·           Of the earmarks secretly inserted into the legislation, 20 were added by freshman House Republicans-many of whom had campaigned on pledges to end earmarks.

·           The earmarks were allowed to be inserted into the bill because of an elaborate process put in place by the Committee’s Chairman, Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Cali.), that involved providing assistance in drafting amendments for his members to add the earmarks, clearing the amendments in large blocks with little or no debate during mark-up of the bill, and-most egregiously-the establishment of slush funds that could be used to offset the spending for pet projects.

“This kind of end-around on the earmark ban by House Republicans is the exact kind of thing that has won Congress a public approval rating below ten percent,” McCaskill adds.  “Americans want to believe in their leaders, but when their leaders put in place an earmark ban and then immediately create a system to get around it so they can have their political pet spending projects, there can be no confidence.”

You can view the report from McCaskill’s investigation on her website: http://mccaskill.senate.gov/ndaa/

She says “Even though public disclosures of earmark requests had been required in the previous Congress, a thorough review of the amendments offered by House Representatives was ‘significantly handicapped’ as most Republican lawmakers had scrubbed their websites to remove public records of their past earmark requests.”

“Shedding light on bad behavior goes a long way,” McCaskill says.

 The legislation

Senators McCaskill and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) have introduced the bipartisan Earmark Elimination Act of 2011, which would build on the temporary moratorium on earmarks scheduled to expire at the end of 2012 and would permanently ban earmarks from the legislative process.

McCaskill says passage of the measure would:

·           Permanently ban all earmarks.

·           Define earmarks as any congressionally directed spending item, limited tax benefit, or limited tariff benefit.

·           Create a point of order against any legislation containing an earmark. The point of order would only apply to the actual earmark, rather than to the entire bill.

·           Require a two-thirds vote to waive the point of order.

“We can’t afford to waste money this way,” Toomey says. “We have staggering deficits, we have completely unsustainable debt.”

He says over the course of 15 years, earmarking had nearly tripled, reaching nearly $32 billion by 2010.

“Clearly, $32 billion won’t close the budget deficit, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and this is a good place,” he says.

McCaskill says Congress should also ramp up its oversight of the way the executive branch spends money. For example, she’s requested an investigation into a $433 million no-bid contract the Obama administration awarded to the maker of an experimental smallpox vaccine, when smallpox hasn’t been a major health threat in the United States for a long, long time.