NPR logo Report: Freshmen Lawmakers Engage In (N)earmarking

Report: Freshmen Lawmakers Engage In (N)earmarking

U.S. Capitol dome. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

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Charles Dharapak/AP

U.S. Capitol dome.

Charles Dharapak/AP

In a story some version of which could probably have been written all the way back to the earliest Congresses, the New York Times notes that lawmakers of Congress who rail against federal spending in general tend to like it in their districts in particular.

Ron Nixon of the NYT focuses specifically on House freshmen who won election with Tea Party support as fiscal conservatives opposed to the kind of pork barreling and earmarking that lawmakers once boasted proficiency in before the nation's fiscal woes made it taboo.

While unable to earmark since that has been banned, the lawmakers are directing legislative attention to projects in or near their districts which they believe could have a beneficial effect for their constituents.

An NYT excerpt:

Early this year, the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House caucus, opposed a program that replaces sand on the nation's beaches as one of several wasteful programs, estimating that scrapping the program would save the government about $95 million.

"Beach erosion is a natural process, and spending in this area may not be effective," the group said. "In addition, this spending is more properly the responsibility of states, localities and private landowners."

But when the measure to kill the program came up for a vote last February, Representative Jon Runyan, a former professional football player and freshman Republican from New Jersey, opposed it, and it was overwhelmingly defeated. In his news release, Mr. Runyan, who had run a campaign on ending the "fiscal insanity" in Washington, boasted of his efforts in getting continued money for replenishing the sand on the beaches in his district.

Last year, the Democratic lawmaker whom Mr. Runyan defeated requested more than $20 million in earmarks to replace the sand on New Jersey's beaches. On Tuesday, Mr. Runyan defended the program. "Beach replenishment projects are vital to protecting New Jersey's 127 miles of coastline from violent storms," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Since earmarks were supposedly banned when the Republicans took charge of the House, maybe what's happening now should be called (n)earmarking.

Anyway, similar stories have appeared since Republicans, largely fueled by the Tea Party, won the House majority.

In May, for instance Donna Cassata wrote for the Huffington Post that House GOP freshmen were inserting requests in a bill to authorize $553 billion in Defense Department funding.

A provision added to Obama's budget request would provide another $2.5 million for weapons and munitions advanced technology, money for the Quad City Manufacturing Lab at the Rock Island Arsenal in freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling's Illinois district. The lab conducts research and development on titanium, lightweight composites and other advanced materials.

A statement from the congressman's office said he "offered amendments to expand support for advanced manufacturing techniques and capital improvements at arsenals."

Schilling, who was born and raised in Rock Island, also said, "I am honored to have the opportunity to represent the hard-working men and women at the Rock Island Arsenal."

During his 2010 campaign against Democratic Rep. Phil Hare, the tea party-backed, pizza-business owner Schilling ran as a fiscal conservative and railed against Hare's earmarking.

All of this brings to mind the Latin motto the great newspaper columnist Mike Royko coined for the city of Chicago — Ubi Est Mea which translates: "Where's mine?"