Omnibusting By Betsy Newmark

The Heritage Foundation has a new website, Omnibusting, up to look more closely at the Omnibus bill. You can find stories there such as they have already found over 11,000 earmarks in the bill and are still counting. And Senator Stevens is up to his old tricks, getting the federal government to fund rat control in Alaska. But that’s just minor league compared to Charlie Rangel getting funding for, what else, the Charlie Rangel Center for Public Service which, according to CBS News, will be a full-fledged monument to Rangel.

According to promotional brochures, the soon-to-be refurbished building will house the new “Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service,” the “Rangel Conference Center,” “a well-furnished office for Charles Rangel” and the “Charles Rangel Library” for his papers and memorabilia. It’s kind of like a presidential library, but without a president. In fact, the brochure says Rangel’s library will be as important as the Clinton and Carter libraries.

Republican Congressman John Campbell of California says it’s downright unseemly.

“We call it the ‘Monument to Me,’ because you’re creating, or the person – in this case Congressman Rangel – is creating a monument to himself,” he said.

Although Alaska catches up with all the funding that it got for studying sea life.

Meanwhile, Tom Coburn, who is fast becoming one of my very favorite senator (although that isn’t saying much) counters the typical argument you hear from politicians to explain how noble they are to put earmarks into bills so that elected officials can be the ones to decide how money is spent rather than unelected bureaucrats.

If Congress truly knows best, they should have no reason to stand in the way of competition or fear an evaluation of their earmarks by the Department of Defense. Earmarks should be taken to the floor and voted on, and Congress should abide by the same competition requirements that everyone else must follow.

Let me explain how the process of defense earmarks works in the halls of power: Very rarely does an experienced weapons-systems engineer, aerospace engineer or naval architect come to work in the Senate. Instead, earmark requests typically start with a constituent meeting or something worse. Those who review earmark requests — unelected congressional staff — often have little in the way of significant military or real world experience. Staff then seeks an endorsement by persons within the defense establishment who are hesitant to offend the institution that provides their funding.

This process rarely produces anything objective, as the arguments made in support of a project often are provided by the same entity that would receive the proposed funding. The process is rigged: The sponsor of the project can claim his or her earmark has been vetted by the Defense Department while the approving entity, such as a Defense Department lab that wasn’t funded in the president’s budget, can benefit from increased funding via the earmark.

The Appropriations Committee then claims to vet every earmark, but with a staff of less than a dozen and tens of thousands of requests, this is doubtful. In point of fact, the Appropriations Committee has fought to ensure that the Defense Department does not evaluate any earmark’s “value to the service” and has actively opposed my efforts to force the Pentagon to provide a “Defense Earmark Report Card” that would allow real military experts in the Pentagon to tell Congress what it thinks of defense earmarks.

If Congress wants to be taken seriously in their claims of supporting the troops they should be focused on funding the priorities of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and their commanders — not the priorities of lobbyists, campaign donors, and special interests. When politicians argue that they know better than the commanders on the ground we should hold them accountable by demanding that each of those projects is evaluated objectively and subjected to competition like every other contract. Congress should be forced to play by the rules they set for others, particularly when funding the wrong priorities costs American lives.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page.

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