Abrams Tanks, Laser Labs And Citrus Rot: Your Guide To Earmarks In The Omnibus Spending Bill

on January 15 2014 5:35 PM
US Capitol Nov 2012 2
U.S. Capitol. Reuters

Congress unveiled its comprehensive $1.1 trillion Omnibus appropriations bill on Tuesday, claiming that the legislation is supposedly free of earmark spending thanks to a congressional ban. The truth is, though, that a number of Congress members on both sides of the aisle used the bill to bring in additional money for pet projects in their home states.

Take the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will be constructed with $404 million set aside in the Omnibus bill. The facility, designed to detect biological threats to the United States, appears to simply be a replacement for the 1950s-era Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. Within hours of the Omnibus spending bill’s debut, however, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) rushed to brag that he ensured the NBAF would be built in his hometown of Manhattan, Kan.

Moran, who describes himself as opposed to earmarks, takes almost full responsibility for the NBAF’s location in Kansas in a press release.

“As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have worked to make certain NBAF remains a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security, the Administration and among Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle,” Sen. Moran said. “Thanks to Governor Brownback, the Kansas legislature and Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz for their leadership and support as this process continues.”

Several other Congress members have also taken credit for million-dollar projects in their home states. Rep. Rom Rooney (R-FL) touted $20 million in federal funding to fight a citrus disease. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) bragged that he secured $64 million for a Rochester University laser lab, even more than the lab received last year.

"I am thrilled to have helped secure $64 million for the lab -- $5 million more than last year," Schumer said.

Several other projects received far more money than initially requested, a fact that nearly all Congress members in the affected states have touted as positives. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) praised $310 million secured to build six Coast Guard fast responder cutters, despite the fact that the Obama administration only wanted two boats built.

Some Congress members have even bragged about securing money to continue producing obsolete technology. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) congratulated himself for snagging $90 million to produce Abrams tanks at a plant in Lima, Ohio. The only problem? The Army doesn’t want any more and has repeatedly tried to shut down their production.

So why do Congress members insist on slipping these riders into the Omnibus spending bill despite a ban on such things? Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, says that while Congress members may be against earmarks and unnecessary spending in general, they still want to curry favor with their local electorate.

"These are people who are in a position of power, who are writing these bills, so they're making sure that their bread is buttered," Ellis told the Huffington Post.

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