Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baucus responds to Rehberg's anti-pork pledge

Posted By on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 at 1:30 PM

The current issue of the Indy tackles the topic of Rep. Denny Rehberg's hypocritical and dubious call for our state delegation to forgo earmarks. After we went to press yesterday, Sen. Max Baucus released the following letter to Rehberg, in which he basically questions whether the congressman knows what he's doing.

Full text here:

November 23, 2010

Representative Dennis Rehberg
2448 Rayburn HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Rep. Rehberg,

Thank you for your letter and for your work on behalf of Montana.

Like you I am concerned about our mounting federal deficit. And like you I have heard from Montanans who share this concern.

Montanans know the best way to tackle the deficit is to get folks back to work and grow our economy. The Montanans I talk to want us to support real solutions like infrastructure projects and tax cuts that will bring good-paying jobs to Montana — not political stunts from party bosses in Washington.

Montana depends on the federal dollars you have long supported. As the Montana Legislative Branch’s calculations in the chart below show, federal funds amount to 43.5 percent of Montana’s general fund in 2010 — including much-needed highway dollars, education funding, and money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In fact, Montana ranks 4th in the nation for most federal funding as a percentage of its total state budget, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers 2009.

Furthermore, according to the Montana Legislative Fiscal Division, the more than $1.3 billion in Recovery Act funds that have gone to Montana provided a 12.6 percent boost to the total state budget for the 2011 biennium. As a result, Montana has been able to balance the budget more easily than most states.

So-called earmarks have been responsible for vital projects to bring jobs, infrastructure and resources to Montana, including the following, which you sponsored or supported:

· The Montana State University Animal BioScience Facility;
· MT Secondary Highway 323 from Ekalaka to Alzada;
· The Fort Peck-Dry Prairie Rural Water System; and
· The Rocky Boy’s North Central Montana Regional Water System.

Our ability to bring money home for these projects is particularly important to a rural state like Montana, and giving up our ability to do so with the earmark moratorium will hand over even more power to President Obama and larger states like California and New York. Relying on formulas and cost benefit analyses will favor a city subway system over the Ekalaka-Alzada Highway every time. But as representatives of Montana, we know the true value of projects like this to the people of our state. It’s our job to fight for them.

According to the House Republican Caucus’ new earmark policy, an earmark is defined as:

“A provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator providing, authorizing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process.”

It is no doubt the principle of fighting for rural Montana you had in mind when you introduced four bills this Congress to provide funding for construction and upkeep of Montana water systems (H.R.845, Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2009*; H.R.3143, To amend the Fort Peck Reservation Rural Water System Act of 2000, to extend the authorization of appropriations for that Act.; H.R.4119, Dry-Redwater Regional Water Authority System Act of 2009; H.R.5592, Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act of 2010; *Later amended and reintroduced as H.R.3563, Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2009).

I commend you for your efforts to provide this vital support to areas of Montana that need it most. But I worry that projects like these will be banned under the earmark moratorium you signed. Indeed, a plain reading of the House Republican Caucus’ new earmark policy makes clear that authorizing spending for a specific entity is considered an earmark and therefore prohibited. Each of the previously mentioned bills does just that. Do you intend to abandon these bills next Congress, or have you received permission from the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership to use loopholes in the earmark moratorium and introduce these important Montana bills?

As you know, we worked hard to increase the transparency of earmarks with the reforms we fought to pass in 2007. Thanks to that bill, all earmarks are now public, including the name of the member of congress who sponsored them. All Members of Congress requesting an earmark must also provide the Committee on Appropriations with the purpose of the earmark, the name or location of the recipient, and a certification that the Member of Congress himself will not benefit.

As a result, Democrats have reduced the total number of earmarks and total dollar amount spent on earmarks dramatically from 2005 and 2006 levels. The total number of earmark projects has reduced 35 percent from the record level in 2005, and the total funding for earmarks has reduced 43 percent from the record level in 2006, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

The only litmus test I use to evaluate legislation is: is it right for Montana? For this reason, I cannot support Washington party leaders in their efforts to hamper critical Montana transportation, education and infrastructure projects.

As you said once yourself, “Earmarks are not the problem. They direct money that already exists within the program to a particular area, because who knows their district more than we do? That's our opportunity to make our argument to our colleagues. It doesn't add to the budget.” (Great Falls Tribune, December 28, 2009)

An honest discussion about our mutual concern over the federal deficit must bear in mind that, as the New York Times recently reported (November 17, 2010), only 0.3 percent of the government’s budget comes from earmarks.

The best way to reduce our national deficit is to help businesses create jobs and let working families keep more of their hard- earned money. That’s why I fought so hard to pass the Small Business Jobs Bill that was signed into law earlier this year, and that is why I am fighting hard to extend tax cuts for middle-class families.

I urge you to join me in this effort to avoid the distractions of political stunts and find real solutions to bring good-paying jobs to Montana and get our economy moving again.

Max Baucus

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