Claire McCaskill re-introduces Earmark Elimination Act in Senate

$15.9 billion was spent on pet projects in 2010.
Heather Finn / Graphic Designer

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., re-introduced bipartisan legislation that would permanently ban earmark spending in Congress.

The Earmark Elimination Act of 2013, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and eight other republican and democratic senators, seeks to narrowly define earmarks and prohibit them from being attached to pieces of legislation.

McCaskill said the act, which would essentially codify the two-year moratorium on earmarks that is already in place, was a natural next step in her long history of opposing earmarks.

“In my fight against pork-barrel spending on pet projects by Congress, we've made a lot of progress,” a McCaskill news release stated. “We're changing the culture of Congress to one where members are judged based on how much taxpayer money they save, not how much they spend.”

Earmarks are small spending bills that members of Congress attach to larger pieces of legislation and the reports that go along with them, political science professor Marvin Overby said. The spending is typically narrow in scope, benefiting a single legislator’s constituents.

A 2011 version of the act, which McCaskill also cosponsored, died in committee.

In addition to supporting the 2011 act, McCaskill cosponsored a bill in 2010 that would have established an earmark moratorium in 2010 and 2011. The bill was essentially the same as a U.S. Senate moratorium on earmarks that went into effect in 2011 and 2012, according to her office. Previously, she co-sponsored a similar amendment to the 2009 budget that would have established a moratorium on earmarks for that fiscal year.

McCaskill said fighting earmarks ensures limited funding is allocated fairly.

“When we're talking about investments in America's infrastructure, resources need to be awarded based on merit and competition, not based on who you are and who you know,” she said.

States with senior members of Congress have historically benefited the most from earmark spending, said Josh Sewell, senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense. Taxpayers for Common Sense is a nonpartisan watchdog group that supports the act.

“Members of Congress have concerns, and absolutely they need to work on behalf of their constituents,” Sewell said. “Sometimes there are good projects funded by earmarks, but we have no idea if they were they best projects. But we do know the places with the most political power got the most earmarks.”

Before the moratorium, earmarks accounted for more than $15.9 billion in Congressional spending in 2010, Sewell said.

Overby said although earmarks trouble some politicians, this spending makes up a relatively small percentage of national spending.

“That sounds like a lot of money, but in an economy for a federal budget the size of ours, earmarks actually make up a relatively small amount of the appropriations process,” he said. “We’ve had largely an unofficial ban on earmarks anyway, and it really hasn’t helped the budget that much.”

In 2010, some earmark spending initiated by Missouri legislators benefited MU and other public universities in Missouri. Then-Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., earmarked about $8 million for MU, and he also earmarked funding for projects at Southeast Missouri State and Missouri State universities. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who served in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, earmarked $6.8 million for Missouri State University. Blunt voted against the 2011 version of the act.

According to legislative records, McCaskill did not sponsor any earmark spending between 2008 and 2010, the most recent years for which data is available.

Despite her lack of earmark spending, McCaskill has been accused of being hypocritical because she has voted in favor of large pieces of legislation, like previous years’ National Defense Authorization Acts, which contained hundreds of earmarks.

“One of the potential reasons McCaskill has introduced this bill is that she has come under fire recently for being rather hypocritical on earmarks,” Overby said. “She wants to reclaim her title as the queen of anti-earmarks.”

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