|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Freshman House Republicans who rode a wave of voter discontent into office last year vowed to stop out-of-control spending, but that has not stopped several of them from quietly trying to funnel millions of federal dollars into projects back home.
They have pushed for dozens of projects in their districts, including military programs opposed by the president, replenishing beach sand lost to erosion, a $700 million bridge in Minnesota and a harbor dredging project in Charleston, S.C. Some of their projects were once earmarks, political shorthand for pet projects penciled into spending bills, which Republicans banned when they took over the House.
An examination of spending bills, news releases and communications with federal agencies obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that nearly two dozen freshmen have sought money for projects that could ultimately cost billions of dollars, while calling for less spending and banning pork projects.
Politicians have long advocated for projects on behalf of individuals and businesses back home, even without earmarks. Several lawmakers said they were merely providing a constituent service. But since many of the freshman Republicans campaigned on a pledge to cut spending and to change Washington’s time-honored ways, their support of spending projects suggests that in many cases ideology can go only so far in serving the needs of people back home.
Lawmakers like Representative Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, who advocated for the harbor dredging project with other members of the South Carolina delegation, insist their requests are neither earmarks nor wasteful. “This was a merit-based project that was open and transparent,” said Mr. Scott, who helped secure $150,000 for the first phase of a harbor-deepening project in Charleston, his hometown. The project is expected eventually to cost as much as $300 million. Mr. Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party movement, said he is opposed to earmarks and that dredging the port was in the national interest because it would accommodate bigger cargo ships and help create trade opportunities and jobs.
On the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, local officials and members of Congress have pushed for a new four-lane bridge over the St. Croix River that was co-sponsored by Representative Sean P. Duffy, a Wisconsin freshman Republican, and Representative Michele Bachmann, the three-term Minnesota Republican who is running for president.
Opponents labeled the bridge an earmark, but Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Bachmann said the bridge was critical to handle increased traffic that an 80-year-old bridge nearby can no longer handle alone. They defend the spending by arguing that it was not an earmark since there were no specific costs listed in the bill itself, nor is it a financing bill. The legislation calls only for a bridge to be built.
The National Park Service has opposed the project, saying it would violate the Wild and Scenic River Act by harming the river’s scenic and recreational qualities.