Democrats no slouches on congressional pork
DERRICK Z. JACKSON
Hillary Clinton talks of "our effort to change America." Barack Obama's rallies are nicknamed "Countdown to Change." John Edwards latest mantra is, "Money is corrupting our democracy. We can either accept it or demand change." Whatever change these presidential candidates are talking about is a mystery. As they pontificate in Iowa and New Hampshire, their fellow Democrats in Washington oink-oink away.
A year after regaining control of the Senate and the House by railing against "George Bush's war" in Iraq, the Democrats show no sign of changing the war machine. In the summer, I noted how four of the top five senators who earmarked money in their states for defense contracts were not Republican hawks but liberal and centrist Democrats -- Carl Levin of Michigan, Clinton and Charles Schumer of New York, and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Six of the top 10 senators in defense campaign contributions in the 2006 election cycle were Democrats -- Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Clinton, Chris Dodd of Connecticut (another presidential candidate), Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Last summer, Kennedy requested $100 million for a General Electric fighter engine the Air Force said it did not need.
With the possibility that a Democrat will take the White House in 2008, the defense industry is already throwing its weight behind the Democrats. In the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, the industry gave 54 percent of its contributions to Democrats. But the industry soured on his administration, giving 68 percent to Republicans in 1996 and giving at least 60 percent to Republican causes up to and including the ill-fated (for Republicans) 2006 midterms.
In the 2008 election cycle, the industry is giving 52 percent of its contributions to Democrats. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats now make up eight of the top 10 defense recipients. Dodd and Clinton are first and third, respectively, ahead of Republican presidential candidates John McCain (fifth), Mitt Romney (16th) and Rudy Giuliani (20th). Dodd and Clinton have taken in $171,300 and $125,583, respectively, to McCain's $118,450, Romney's $82,050, and Giuliani's $69,100.
The New York Times recently reported that members of the House earmarked an extra $1.8 billion to the military budget for projects the Pentagon did not request. This is despite cutting earmarks by half. The top earmarker at $166 million was the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee, John Murtha of Pennsylvania. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California asked for $32 million and majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland request $26 million.
The same party that complains about Bush's no-bid contracts for Halliburton in Iraq is willing to maintain this system of funding local companies and programs that also face no competitive bidding.
The Seattle Times detailed last month how Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Norm Dicks and Brian Baird, all Democrats, earmarked $17.65 million to a boat company for a vessel the Navy did not ask for and never used. Murray also earmarked $6 million to a company for battle gear the Army rejected. Rep. David Wu, an Oregon Democrat, earmarked $2 million for combat T-shirts that were banned because their polyester was flammable.
As if that was not enough, The New York Times reported last week on the bipartisan vanity of earmarks in domestic spending.
Republican congressman Ralph Regula of Ohio asked for $130,000 for a library founded by his wife and directed by his daughter. Several current and former members of Congress, including New York Democratic congressman Charles Rangel and former Senate Democratic majority leader Thomas Daschle, have up to $2 million apiece earmarked for "public service," "research," and "leadership" centers named after them.
Of 20 leading domestic spending earmarkers in Congress listed by the Times, 12 are Democrats. The Democrats recently handed the Republicans a cultural cudgel when Clinton and Schumer were nailed trying to earmark $1 million for a museum commemorating the 1969 Woodstock concert. USA Today reported that the museum's sponsor gave the Clinton campaign $9,200 and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee $20,000 after the earmark was filed.
Even after Republicans killed the earmark by making a laughing stock of Woodstock, the site of great music and a great amount of drugs, Schumer had the nerve to say, "I am proud of the earmarks I've put in this bill."
If Schumer is proud, then whatever change the Democrats speak of is merely rearranging the deck chairs. Democrats funded a boat the Navy did not ask for. If the party does not watch out, they could get Swift-boated, again.