Earmarks: Where do McCain and Palin really stand?
One of the earmarks Sen. John McCain has the most fun attacking is one for studying the DNA of bears. It gets great laughs. One might assume he fought what he considered wasteful spending tooth and nail.
McCain gave that earmark a pass.
Despite the fun McCain had ridiculing the bear project on the Senate floor, he didn't actually try to remove it from the bill. He did introduce several amendments, including three to reduce funding for projects he considered wasteful or harmful, but none removing the grizzly bear project appropriations. And despite his criticisms, he voted in favor of the final bill.
In her first speech after being touched by McCain to be the vice presidential candidate, Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin claimed she has fought long and hard against earmarks and wasteful spending. She also had a great applause line.
During her first speech after being named as McCain's surprise pick as a running mate, Palin said she had told Congress "'thanks but no thanks' on that bridge to nowhere."
In the city Ketchikan, the planned site of the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," political leaders of both parties said the claim was false and a betrayal of their community, because she had supported the bridge and the earmark for it secured by Alaska's Congressional delegation during her run for governor.
The state, however, never gave back any of the money that was originally earmarked for the Gravina Island bridge, said [Ketchikan Democratic Mayor Bob] Weinstein and [Palin's Ketchikan campaign coordinator Republican Mike] Elerding.
In fact, the Palin administration has spent "tens of millions of dollars" in federal funds to start building a road on Gravina Island that is supposed to link up to the yet-to-be-built bridge, Weinstein said.
"She said 'thanks but no thanks,' but they kept the money," said Elerding about her applause line.
"People are learning that she pandered to us by saying, I'm for this' ... and then when she found it was politically advantageous for her nationally, abruptly she starts using the very term that she said was insulting," Weinstein said.
In fact, in her news release about cancelling the bridge, Palin said nothing about returning the federal funds nor did she attack "earmarks". Instead, she lamented that they were unable to get enough federal funds for from congress for the bridge and that it have been given a bad rap in Washington. It was time to rescue what earmarks she could.
“Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Governor Palin added. “Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.”
Her own words contradict her. The money was not returned. Not only was the money not returned, she asked for more.
This year she submitted to Congress a list of Alaska projects worth $197.8 million, including $2 million to research crab productivity in the Bering Sea and $7.4 million to improve runway lighting at eight Alaska airports. A spokesman said she cut the original list of 54 projects to 31.
"So while Sen. McCain was going after cutting earmarks in Washington," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, "Gov. Palin was going after getting earmarks."
Earmarks were nothing new to Palin. McCain actually has opposed some of the earmarks she requested as mayor of Wasilla.
- $500,000 earmark for a public transportation project in Wasilla.
- $1 million for an emergency communications center in town -- one that local law enforcement has said is redundant and creates confusion.
- $450,000 set aside for an agricultural processing facility in Wasilla that was requested during Palin's tenure as mayor and cleared Congress soon after she left office in 2002.
This year, Palin, who has been governor for nearly 22 months, defended earmarking as a vital part of the legislative system. "The federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship," she wrote in a newspaper column.
Wasilla received $11.9 million in earmarks from 2000 to 2003. The results of this spending are very apparent today. (The town also benefited from $15 million in federal funds to promote regional rail transportation.)
Palin, he [McCain] said, was "disgusted" that small towns like hers were dependent on earmarks.
Public records paint a different picture:
Wasilla had received few if any earmarks before Palin became mayor. She actively sought federal funds -- a campaign that began to pay off only after she hired a lobbyist with close ties to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) [emphasis added - ed], who long controlled federal spending as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He made funneling money to Alaska his hallmark.
The move paid off and brought more than $2 million in additional earmarks to the town.
McCain also has been caught in the earmark false denial mode.
And I’m proud to tell you, Chris, in 24 years as a member of Congress, I have never asked for nor received a single earmark or pork barrel project for my state and I guarantee you I’ll veto those bills. I’ll ask for the line item veto and I’ll veto them and I’ll make the authors of them famous.
McCain’s claim is false. In 2006, the senator teamed up with fellow Arizona senator Jon Kyl (R) to funnel $10 million toward the University of Arizona for an academic center named after the late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. Even Arizona lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Flake (R), said he was planning to “lean against the measure.” The National Taxpayers Union, another traditional McCain ally, questioned why the senator was making federal taxpayers foot the bill for the center.
Finally, earmarks have been McCain's magic bullet for balancing the federal budget while keeping the Bush tax cuts (which he originally opposed). However, how he makes that happen, if he will make that happen, remains unclear.
"I can eliminate $100 billion of wasteful and earmark spending immediately--35 billion in big spending bills in the last two years, and another 65 billion that has already been made a permanent part of the budget."
--John McCain, NPR All Things Considered, April 23, 2008.
The McCain camp now says that the senator never meant to suggest that his proposed $100 billion in savings would all come from earmarks. ...
Asked whether McCain had misspoke or whether he had been misunderstood in his focus on eliminating earmarks, Holtz-Eakin replied: "a bit of both."
Finally, as late as March of this year, Palin's administration was adamant it was not abandoning earmarks, far from it. However, it said it would have to be more careful as "there is no longer a "free lunch" at the federal level".
Actually, the Palin Administration said that earmarks were just the whipping boy of Washington politicians unwilling to face the major challenges presented by the federal government.
My Turn: Palin not abandoning earmarks altogether
By John Katz | Juneau Empire
With the coming of spring in the nation's capital, Congress has begun its annual ritual of producing a federal budget.
While Congressional earmarks represent less than 1 percent of the federal budget, a much higher percentage of the appropriations debate focuses on this topic.
One reason for this is several controversial earmarks and election-year politics. Another is that earmarks have become a metaphor for the federal budget generally. It's a lot easier to talk about earmarks than to address difficult budget issues, such as burgeoning domestic entitlement programs and defense spending.
The Juneau Empire identifies John Katz as director of State-Federal Relations and Special Counsel to Gov. Sarah Palin.
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