WASHINGTON – Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is of two minds when it comes to earmarks, those budgeting footnotes that allow members of Congress to steer money toward projects in their own states and districts.
Tucked in the $410 billion spending bill the Senate approved Tuesday were nearly 100 earmarks worth more than $78 million inserted by Cantwell.
Among other things, Cantwell, along with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the state’s House members, included $476,000 for a brain institute founded by Paul Allen, more than $800,000 to expand the often overcrowded neonatal intensive care unit at Richland’s Kadlec Medical Center, and nearly $250,000 for a research and marketing program for organic fruits and vegetables grown in the state.
But as the Senate debated the bill, Cantwell was one of four Democrats who supported an amendment offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have stripped from the bill her earmarks along with more than 8,500 others worth $7.7 billion.
The amendment failed, 32-63.
In the end, Cantwell supported the spending bill.
Even so, her backing of the McCain amendment raised eyebrows among some of her Democratic colleagues. Cantwell offered no explanation for her support of the McCain amendment, but her office sent out a news release touting several earmarks of benefit to Washington state, including $2 million for a weather radar system for the coast.
“Funding these federal programs that invest in and help grow our country’s economy and work force is not only critical for immediate economic recovery, but also for our ability to compete on a global, 21st century scale,” Cantwell said. “From investing in transportation and infrastructure projects, to protecting our kids from the dangers of gangs and meth, to providing our communities with a safety net to better predict severe storms, this bill makes investments in our state’s future.”
This year’s earmarks represent a 5 percent reduction from last year’s levels, which were already down 43 percent, according to Cantwell’s office.
Murray, in a floor speech, defended the practice of what she called “congressionally directed spending,” saying she wasn’t going to let bureaucrats who had never been to Walla Walla, Blaine or Tacoma decide on federal spending for the state. She also pointed out that the Constitution gave Congress, not the executive branch, control over spending.
“Washington is 2,500 miles away from the nation’s capitol,” Murray said. “When I come to D.C., it is my responsibility to fight for my home state.”
The spending bill will fund government operations through the rest of the current fiscal year. It includes the nine appropriations bills that were caught in the spending showdown between Congress and the Bush White House last fall. The bill contains money for virtually every government department and agency.
Washington state’s two senators and nine House members secured more than 400 earmarks in the omnibus bill worth more than $377 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense (www.tax payer.net), a congressional watchdog group that analyzes earmarks.
The earmarks were for highways, roads, sewer projects, hospitals, transit, ferries, community centers, community colleges, law enforcement, methamphetamine programs, dams, levees and dozens of other programs and projects, Taxypayers for Common Sense said.
“I know politically earmarks are a hot topic,” said Dr. Josh Weldin, medical director for the pediatric hospitalist program at Kadlec Medical Center. “Like most people, I think there are too many. But it’s easy to be for hospital beds for premature babies.”
The largest earmark for Washington state was $100 million for the light-rail link from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington.
Among the local projects included were:
• $1.9 million for the Shaw Road Extension Project in Puyallup.
• $1.8 million for Mount Rainier National Park.
• $1.2 million for a downtown Tacoma intermodal center.
• $1.2 million for the Pierce County Alliance’s anti-methamphetamine information clearinghouse and technical training center.
• $1 million for Safe Streets’ Pierce County Regional Gang Prevention Initiative.
• $380,000 to expand the Tacoma Goodwill work opportunity center.
The earmark list included those sponsored by an individual lawmaker and those sponsored by a group of lawmakers.
Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008
Here’s how Washington’s congressional delegation stacks up in securing earmarks, by themselves and with other lawmakers, in the omnibus spending bill in Congress.
LawmakerNumber of Dollar Rank in
Sen. Patty Murray, D155$171 million12th
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D96$78 million49th
Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver30$56 million21st
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair42$27 million77th
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma29$23 million104th
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle31$17 million149th
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco24$17 million152nd
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens23$16 million157th
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island15$7 million284th
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn None
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Deer LakeNone