Region won’t see earmarks from dead Senate bill

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The controversial omnibus bill released this week on Capitol Hill contained nearly $670 million in earmarks for Northeast Mississippi, but the region won’t see any of that money any time soon.
GOP lawmakers forced Senate leadership to drop the massive spending bill along with its billions of dollars in requested earmarks on Thursday. Among those calling for opposition was U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who had more earmarks in the bill than any other senator except U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.
Cochran, the ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, sponsored 263 earmarks worth $522.2 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
Wicker had 223 earmarks worth $415.4 million, many of them joint requests with Cochran, the group found.
While Cochran never issued his position on the bill, Wicker said he opposed it.
“He recognizes that that means he’s voting against many of the earmarks that are in there for Mississippi,” said Wicker’s communications director Tara Dijulio. “But he is committed to his support of the two-year ban on earmarks so we can evaluate the process and work to rein in some spending.”
Wicker was among several lawmakers in November who supported a moratorium on pork-barrel spending. Cochran had initially expressed support for his party’s position on the ban but did not vote for it in session.
U.S. Rep. Travis Childers also sponsored several dozen earmarks, including several joint requests with Wicker and Cochran.
Nearly $300 million of their requests would fund projects at either Mississippi State University in Starkville or the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Other notables include $750,000 to repair Tupelo’s historic Spain House, $2.7 million to renovate Oxford’s City Hall, $25 million for a bypass around Amory and nearly $1 million for HealthWorks!.
In all, more than $2.2 billion worth of earmarks are contained in the spending bill, a whopping $1.2 trillion package which would fund the U.S. government for the rest of the fiscal year.
The deadline for passage is Saturday.
It’s unlikely, though, that Childers, Cochran or Wicker will face a vote on the issue. Lawmakers are expected to pass a continuing resolution allowing them to extend the period in which they must tackle the bill. Many, including Wicker, are calling for an extension into the new year and beyond the current Congress.
“If they go with the continuing resolution, the existing omnibus would cease to exist,” said Chris Gallegos, communications director for Cochran. “They’d have to create it as new legislation next year.”
At that point, Childers will have stepped down as north Mississippi’s U.S. representative, and Congressman-elect Alan Nunnelee will fill that role.
Nunnelee said he can’t comment specifically on the current legislation because he doesn’t get a vote, but he said he’ll uphold the wishes of the people when he takes office. People, he said, want Congress to stop runaway spending.
Wicker echoed those comments in a press release this week: “Americans spoke loud and clear in November about their desire to clean up the out-of-control spending in Washington and repeal Obamacare. This last-minute omnibus package is everything the voters said they did not want – another 2,000-page, big government spending bill that includes $1 billion to fund the health care law.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.