As Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) notes, "This all may seem a little trivial in a week [when] we may approve $700 billion," but the $630 billion omnibus spending bill Congress is finishing up includes some $6.6 billion in earmarks. The biggest pork puller in the Senate is the indicted Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, who will be going out with a bang if he's convicted of illegally hiding corporate gifts and is forced from office. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Stevens is responsible for 39 earmarks totaling $239 million. In the House, The New York Times reports, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) leads with "30 items totaling $111 million, including $24.5 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, his hometown." That's $1.5 million more than his last earmark proposal for the intelligence center, which presumably is the main reason drug warriors are so smart.
While Flake, a leading fiscal consrervative, regrets the way the pending Wall Street bailout has defined congressional profligacy up (or is it down?), many of his colleagues welcome it:
Mr. Murtha told reporters that earmarks were just a tiny fraction of "what the administration wants to bail out those rich guys in New York."
Other lawmakers said the earmarks were a way of tossing a few bones to Main Street, before the Treasury pours hundreds of billions of dollars onto Wall Street.
As I predicted in January, earmark sponsors easily circumvented President Bush's executive order telling agencies to ignore spending instructions not included in the body of legislation. According to Times, "the omnibus spending bill says that the lists of earmarks, though not included in the bill, 'are hereby required by law to be carried out' by federal agencies, just as if they were in the bill."