Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch has pulled the plug on scores of earmarks he championed earlier this year as part of the Republicans' new campaign against pet projects.
His decision, announced Monday, may only be symbolic if Congress just extends the current budget a move that would not fund any earmarks. But if Congress decides to pass a major budget bill before the end of the year, it may include thousands of earmarks, including dozens of the 256 requested by Hatch that add up to $1.2 billion.
Sen. Bob Bennett, a member of the appropriations committee, led Utah's delegation with 321 requests worth $1.36 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, an anti-earmark group that tracks congressional budget bills.
Bennett, who is leaving office in early January, wants Congress to pass a new budget, in part so he can get one last slate of earmarks through.
Hatch and Bennett co-sponsor many of the same earmarks, though each has a few dozen they support individually. Utah's senators rank among the top 25 earmarkers in Congress.
Earmarks are projects sponsored by a member of Congress that largely benefit organizations back home. Republicans greatly increased the number of earmarks when they last held the majority, but many voters and particularly tea party supporters have soured on the practice.
Senate Republicans have decided not to ask for earmarks for the next two years, and the House has followed suit. Shortly after that decision, Hatch sent a two-paragraph letter to the leaders of the Appropriations Committee yanking his requests for fiscal 2011.
"As part of my resolve to bring fiscal discipline back to Washington, I have decided not to make any earmark requests this year," Hatch wrote, in a letter that also said that Utahns expect him to make sure the government is living within its means.
Bennett, though, is an unabashed supporter of the earmarking process, and he repeatedly points out that the budget doesn't grow just because a member of Congress designates where some money should be spent.
Instead of passing a "continuing resolution," which would continue the current budget through a few months of next year, Bennett wants Congress to support an "omnibus" budget bill, as long as the overall cost to taxpayers remains the same.
"If the total spending is the same, clearly the omnibus makes more sense," said Bennett, who noted it would include language protecting a Utah defense contractor's NASA contract. "It is simply more up to date."
Congress is expected to finish its work by the end of the week. The House has already passed a continuing resolution, while the Senate is expected to debate a bigger budget. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an earmark opponent, said he will try to strip earmarks from the budget.
Utah GOP Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz asked for no earmarks because of the House GOP's anti-earmark pledge last year, while Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, supported 31 earmarks worth $27 million.
In all, members of Congress requested funding for more than 39,000 projects worth $130 billion in all.
$1.2 billion • Cost of earmarks requested by Sen. Orrin Hatch
$1.36 billion • Cost of earmarks requested by Sen. Bob Bennett
$130 billion • Cost of all earmark requests
Source: Taxpayers for Common Sense