by Max Brantley
When U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin was elected to Congress, he cheered the Republican caucus' vote to ban earmarks — the secretive and obscure procedure by which special spending projects are attached to larger legislation. Said Griffin last year:
While some worthwhile projects have been funded through earmarks, earmarks have contributed to wasteful spending and the corruption of our system. I am proud we have taken this crucial step toward earning the confidence and trust of the American people.”
That was then. Today, Tim Griffin turns up on U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill's new list of dozens of earmarks added to the defense appropriation bill by both Democrats and Republicans, but notably including many Republicans who ran against the earmarking practice.
“This has to be a record turnaround for members of the House who claimed to be giving up their addiction to earmarks,” said McCaskill, who recently introduced bipartisan legislation to permanently ban earmarks from the legislative process. “These Representatives can insist all they want that they don’t do earmarking anymore—but if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. And it demonstrates exactly why we need my bipartisan legislation to permanently ban earmarks.”
McCaskill has gotten heavy news coverage for her finding that a Republican-led committee added more than 100 earmarks worth more than $800 million to a defense bill in May. Today, Republicans say the legislation has been changed, her remarks are late, irrelevant, misleading and so forth. Quack, quack.
Semantics are at work to a certain degree. Republicans contend, for example, that, if there's a competitive element, the spending directives do not have to be called earmarks.
Griffin added $25 million to the spending bill to buy flight simulators, like, as McCaskill's materials noted, the 20 already in place at Little Rock Air Force Base. There has been no secret about this. He issued a news release on it, though the release didn't specifically mention money for his own district. He seemed to acknowledge the possibility LRAFB could benefit in a newspaper interview, however. Critics of earmarks contend additions such as these are merely backdoor earmarks.
Pork is a lot like term limits. It's the other guy that's the problem, not the guy from your home district packing bacon. But to decry earmarks while you or your party is obtaining lots of them is mighty brassy.
Griffin's staff, naturally, says this addition was not an earmark and not even for the LRAFB, though it could have competed for the money. The statement:
The amendment was not an earmark for LRAFB and was not specific to LRAFB or even C-130s. Rep. Griffin's amendment would have addressed a training gap for our air mobility pilots and would have authorized $25 million for the procurement of training simulators for air mobility aircraft. According to the Air Force, the use of simulators in lieu of airplanes results in safer flight training, reductions in flight hours and fuel usage, and increases the service life of aircraft. This means cost reductions for the U.S. Department of Defense and savings of taxpayer dollars. Further, his amendment was budget neutral, with offsets for the simulators coming from the Air Force's aircraft procurement budget.
The Air Force would have been required to disburse these funds in accordance with Air Force priorities, and the amendment required the procurement process to be merit-based and competitive. Unfortunately, it was not included in the final version of the bill, but Rep. Griffin will continue to fight for legislation that saves taxpayer dollars.