Republican lawmakers and candidates have spent the past year railing against congressional earmarks as the embodiment of everything wrong with “business as usual in Washington.” And under heavy pressure from the tea party movement, they approved earmark bans for GOP members in the House and Senate last month.
Yesterday, the Senate unveiled an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government. Senate Republicans immediately attacked the bill en masse for containing billions in earmarks, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calling the spending provisions “completely and totally inappropriate” and saying he is “actively working to defeat” the bill. “This nearly 2,000-page omnibus filled with thousands of earmarks,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said, shows that “President Obama and Democrats have apparently learned nothing from this November’s election.”
Earlier this year, McConnell asked for $4 million for marijuana eradication efforts by the Kentucky National Guard; $1 million for construction of the Kentucky Blood Center Building; and $650,000 for Advanced Genetic Technologies, a DNA research center at the University of Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) “has a $379,000 earmark to study port dredging in Charleston, something he considers key to economic development.” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) championed an earmark that would prevent the state of Texas from converting existing interstate highway lanes into toll roads. And Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) requested over $16 million in defense-related earmarks.
Appearing on Fox News this morning, Cornyn attacked the omnibus bill for containing earmarks, but host Bill Hemmer confronted Cornyn with his own $16 million request. At first, the senator fumbled and tried to change the subject, but after being pressed, Cornyn defended the merits of his earmarks but not the process, before finally trying to exculpate himself by saying he requested the money “earlier on in the year”:
HEMMER: You yourself has asked for earmarks too. … Can you defend that senator?
CORNYN: Well, I believe I can. But I’m not going to. Because I’m going to vote against this bill. … I think we need an earmark moratorium, which I voted for two years, till we fix this broken system, because it’s become a symbol of wasteful Washington spending.
HEMMER: I get it, but I’m confused then, then why is there $16 million in requests from you? Is that not true?
CORNYN: Earlier on in the year, I did request earmarks that I think are individually defensible. And if we had a debate on the floor, I think I could show how they help our men and women in uniform fight two different wars.
Of course, Cornyn is right to argue that many earmarks have merit and provide necessary funds for important projects in lawmakers’ districts. For this reason, Democrats and a handful of dissenting Republicans rebuffed efforts to impose a binding earmark ban in the Senate last month. Moreover, as retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) said, “We’re fooling the American people when we tell them the problem [with the deficit] is earmarks.”
But if Cornyn and his colleagues are going to pander to the tea party movement and demonize earmarks, they should at least practice what they preach. But so far, they have not. Just three days after the Senate GOP voted to enact their earmark ban, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the number two Senate Republican, “got himself a whopping $200 million” earmark for his state. Meanwhile, the group of House Republicans most closely aligned with the tea party, those in the Tea Party Caucus, have taken over $1 billion in earmarks over the past year.