The 1,582-page bill is officially free of the spending for pet
projects that spurred public outrage and were banned in 2010 after
Republicans won control of the House of Representatives.
But with November congressional elections looming, lawmakers from
both parties are promoting their roles in shaping the legislation in
ways that will improve life back home. The bill, which funds wide
swaths of the U.S. government, is expected to pass the Senate by the
end of the week.
Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said in a press release that
he helped win $404 million for a home-state facility to study
foreign animal disease outbreaks. He also noted that the bill would
create jobs by funding an Air Force base expansion in the state.
Republican Rep. Mike Simpson highlighted spending increases he
secured for a nuclear-research facility in his Idaho district.
Three Democratic House members from the San Diego region — Scott
Peters, Susan Davis and Juan Vargas — said the bill pays for more
traffic lanes at a busy Mexican border checkpoint.
Those projects bear little similarity to widely ridiculed historic
earmarks like the Teapot museum in North Carolina or the "Bridge to
Nowhere" in Alaska, which came to symbolize wasteful government
Although current spending provisions are not labeled as earmarks,
"they're earmark-ish, they're earmark-esque," said Steve Ellis, an
analyst at the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Simpson, for example, influences nuclear program spending as head of
the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. The final
bill increases spending for the Idaho National Laboratory, a
nuclear-research facility in Simpson's district, by at least $24
million over the administration's request. It also adds another $22
million for clean-up of his state's contaminated nuclear-energy and
weapons testing sites.
A Simpson spokeswoman called the spending appropriate for a vital
"The Idaho National Laboratory is a federally owned, federally
funded national laboratory dedicated to energy research and national
security, so of course it received funding," Simpson spokeswoman
Nikki Watts said.
Staffers for Moran and Peters said projects they championed could
not be classified as earmarks because they originated with the Obama
administration, not with Congress.
"These projects are about as far from earmarks as you can get," said
Moran spokeswoman Garrette Silverman.
Not every benefit in the bill entails a spending hike.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who as chairman of the
Appropriations Committee led negotiations on the bill, said in a
press release that it would help her state's struggling seafood
industry by bringing in more foreign workers to pick crabs and shuck
oysters during harvest time.
Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill
Cassidy, who hopes to unseat Landrieu in November, both touted the
bill's inclusion of a one-year delay to a planned flood-insurance
premium for state homeowners.
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Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano added a provision to delay plans by the
cash-strapped Postal Service to sell historic post office buildings — a priority in his Bronx, New York, district, where residents face
the potential loss of a landmark building filled with Depression-era
Serrano said his rider is not an earmark because it does not involve
spending and also would apply to historic Post Office buildings
He said earmarking once helped out local interests that otherwise
could not navigate the federal bureaucracy.
"It gave a member of Congress who knows his or her community best an
opportunity to bring dollars to local originations that ordinarily
would not get a cent from the federal government because they don't
have the contacts," he said in an interview.
Some analysts say the earmark ban has contributed to recent fiscal
crises, giving lawmakers fewer incentives to pass spending bills.
Besides, there is nothing wrong with protecting local interests,
said Sean Kelly, a political science professor at California State
University Channel Islands who studies the federal budgeting
"This is members of Congress doing what they're supposed to do,
which is advocating for their programs, for their districts. That's
what the game is about," he said.
Some Republicans are beginning to question their party's rigid
stance on earmarks. Texas Republican Reps. John Carter and John
Culberson, who hold senior positions on the House Appropriations
Committee, have said recently that the earmark ban shifted too much
spending control to the Obama administration.
But House Speaker John Boehner said the ban has helped Republicans
rein in spending.
"Republicans have listened to the American people and kept their
promise to end business as usual in Washington," Boehner's office
Serrano said the significance of earmarks had been overblown.
"I remember once they attacked a cheese museum in Wisconsin. That's
an easy one, because it sounds funny, but cheese is very important
to Wisconsin, and it's been a part of their culture for a long
time," he said. "What's important to one state or one member of
Congress may not sound that important to a reporter from another
(Additional reporting by David Lawder; editing by Marilyn Thompson
and Dan Grebler)
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