Several weeks ago the Indy delved into the debate between Rep. Denny Rehberg and Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester over the necessity of earmarks—federal appropriations for home-state projects, often call "pork"—in a time when the federal budget deficit exceeds $1.3 trillion.
Well, Rehberg and fellow Republicans successfully wrangled reluctant Democrats in the Senate, which on Tuesday imposed a two-year earmark moratorium. Republicans got a big assist from President Obama, who promised during last week's State of the Union address that "If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it."
Said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, in announcing the moratorium:
I continue to support the constitutional right of members of Congress to direct investments to their states and districts under the fiscally responsible and transparent earmarking process that we have established.
However, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. The President has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.
Sens. Baucus and Tester, though, remain steadfast in their support of earmarks, which they argue generate much-needed jobs, infrastructure and resources in Montana.
“I'm disappointed in this decision," Baucus says. "It cedes Congress' constitutionally-granted power of the purse to the president and his administration. This administration doesn't need any more power. Agency bureaucrats behind their desks in D.C. don't understand what's best for Montana. I'm in Washington to do what's right for Montana. Montanans rely on their congressional delegation to ensure that they get their fair share of federal spending. Even as we tighten our belts and look for responsible solutions to long-term fiscal issues, Montana community priorities need to be addressed."
Says Tester: “This does away with our ability make sure Montana isn’t cut out of the picture when decisions are made about our taxpayer dollars. And it gives all that authority directly to President Obama and unelected bureaucrats. If I were the president, I’d probably want that power too."
The Montana Republican Party, meanwhile, is gloating, pointing out that "it's getting lonely at the pork trough."
[Baucus and Tester have] been out defending the practice of pork barrel earmarking as necessary for their
re-election...er, public service. Now a sitting president from their own party told them they were wrong."
Of course, before Rehberg's 180, he bellied-up to the trough more than most. He sponsored or co-sponsored 89 earmark requests in fiscal year 2010, totaling $103,514,200, ranking 8th out of 435 representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.