Recently, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has tweeted a series of top 10 lists of “porkiest projects” in the omnibus spending bill, criticizing “beaver management” and even funding for school construction. Last month, one of his tweets was an earmark in the omnibus spending bill for “mormon crickets”
@SenJohnMcCain: #6 $1 million for mormon cricket control in Utah — is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits?
The line has since been embraced by the right wing as an example of wasteful spending. Today, the earmark’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) explained his rationale in a tense interview with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, who accused Bennett of abusing federal funds for pet projects. “Why is it an earmark to begin with?” she pressed. Bennett fired back at Kelly: “Okay, will you calm down for a minute?” The Utah senator then took a shot at McCain:
KELLY: The only debate I’ve heard is John McCain telling you that this is the sixth porkiest earmark he sees in the bill.
BENNETT: Well, that may be because the Mormon crickets only infest Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Maybe we ought to shoot some of them over the border into Arizona. But they go wherever they go. And again, the authorizing committee that examines these things is fully aware of it.
So-called “Mormon crickets” are actually an invasive cicada species that decimates crops across the West regularly. In 2000, the infestations cost Utah alone $22 million in crop damages. The cricket infestation in 2003 caused at least $25 million in damages. “We are going to eradicate the crickets [with the funds]. And they infest at highest point 3.5 million acres — most of which is public lands. … The crops…are being destroyed on public lands,” Bennett explained.
Bennett noted that eliminating earmarks doesn’t save federal dollars, and he scolded Fox News’s reporting. “If the money were not earmarked for this purpose, it would still be spent. That is, the Dept. of Agriculture would spend it someplace else,” he said. “So do not deceive your listeners and your viewers.”