Republicans spar over earmarks
Washington » Senate Republicans led by former presidential candidate John McCain are preparing to brow beat Democrats next week over thousands of pet projects included in the 2009 budget bill that is expected to come up for a vote.
But in this fight over earmarks, McCain has also taken a few jabs at Utah and projects requested by Republican colleague Bob Bennett, including federal cash for a Provo parking garage. And Utah's newest member of Congress, Jason Chaffetz, is siding with McCain in this squabble.
"Maybe we shouldn't ask for things that shouldn't be funded," Chaffetz said.
McCain has long opposed earmarks, which are parochial projects requested by a member of Congress that bypass the normal budget process.
Earmarks have been tied to a number of recent scandals and while Congress has made the process more transparent, it hasn't silenced critics like McCain, who says earmarking helps powerful politicians appease voters but doesn't necessarily fund the most worthwhile items.
Next week, the Senate will take up the 2009 Omnibus bill, a more than $400 billion measure that includes funding increases for everything from road projects to health programs. The bill includes about 8,600 earmarks with about $7.7 billion, including dozens of projects requests by Utah's federal delegation, according to the earmark-tracking group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Republican leaders are pointing to earmarks as examples of excessive spending by Democrats, though 40 percent of those earmarks were requested by Republicans.
To highlight what he believes is wasteful spending, McCain released a list of the "top ten porkiest projects" on Twitter, a microblogging Web site.
No. 6 on the list is a $1 million earmark requested by Utah's Bennett to eradicate pesky Mormon crickets. McCain jokes: "Is that the species of cricket or a game played by the Brits?"
Utah appears again at No. 9 on McCain's list for a $475,000 parking structure in Provo requested by Bennett and fellow Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz represents the Provo area but like McCain opposes the earmark.
"It is simply not the proper role for the federal government to be funding parking garages for a city. We are $10 trillion in debt. We are just going to have to say no to some projects," the freshman congressman said.
Provo Mayor Lewis Billings defended the project and fired back at McCain for "bickering."
"Don't beat up on your own for trying to do what they were elected to do," he said. "I can get all philosophically pious and get on my soap box in the park and preach, but communities have to do practical things. I'm a mayor who has to fill pot holes and plow streets."
He said the parking garage will help attract developers for the city's downtown revitalization effort. And Congress has supported a number of similar projects throughout the nation.
Bennett's spokeswoman Tara Hendershott said: "There is a lack of knowledge and understanding regarding many earmarks, such as the Mormon cricket funding."
That money would help stop these aggressive insects from infesting farms and grazing lands and destroying crop, particularly in Utah's southern counties.
"Sens. Bennett and McCain have a fundamental difference of opinion over Congress' constitutional right to appropriate money," she said.
Bennett believes ending earmarks hands over all budget decisions to federal bureaucrats taking away the authority from elected officials who better know their states.
Chaffetz, like McCain, has vowed to forego any earmark until the budgetary process is revamped.
"Congress obviously has a constitutional responsibility to direct spending, but earmarks are all too often used as a tool to hide ridiculous pork-laden spending," Chaffetz said.