None of us expected that Republicans members of Congress would easily lay down the re-election security binkies we call earmarks. There were always going to be holdouts like Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Senator James Inhofe (R-Porkopolis) who we’d have to crowbar into grudging, grumbling compliance. However, our task is going to be much more difficult if we can’t keep the more stalwart earmark foes in line.
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans’ ban on earmarks – money included in a bill by a lawmaker to benefit a home-state project or interest – was short-lived.
Only three days after GOP senators and senators-elect renounced earmarks, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, got himself a whopping $200 million to settle an Arizona Indian tribe’s water rights claim against the government.
Kyl slipped the measure into a larger bill sought by President Barack Obama and passed by the Senate on Friday to settle claims by black farmers and American Indians against the federal government. Kyl’s office insists the measure is not an earmark, and the House didn’t deem it one when it considered a version earlier this year.
Kyl does have an argument here. The money is a settlement that will probably get the taxpayers off the hook for a more costly round of settlements later. It’s not an earmark in the “I’m going to set aside a few million bucks so one of my campaign contributors can get a big construction project” sense. However, Kyl did stick his request into a bill like it was an earmark and the cash will go to a potentially powerful constituent group inside his own state. It may not be an earmark like all the others, but it has the sneaky look of one. The tenor of his defense, which can be summed up as “It’s technically legal!” isn’t exactly convincing.
None of that serves as an excuse. As Senate Republican Whip, Kyl has a higher profile than almost every other Republican and his clear promise not to take earmarks and his vote for a moratorium earlier this year drew a bright line he should never have approached. Kyl’s dip into the trough, even if he can technically justify it, smells enough like an earmark to make him a target of the Democrats and their online flying monkey squadron. For that reason alone he should have introduced it as a stand-alone bill, defended it openly, and won the support he needed to get it passed on its own merits.
This little episode should be a lesson to those who represent us in Congress. If there is a project worth taking the money of hard-working Americans to support, then it should be able to withstand an open and rigorous debate. If it can’t, if it has to be slipped into another bill when no one is looking, then it is not worthy. Let that be the rule by which every spending proposal is measured and the American people will start to trust Congress again.
Edited to clean up a runaway link tag. Thanks!