n Cochran and Wicker remain the leaders in directing money to their state.
By JOE RUTHERFORD
While congressional earmarks have sizzled as a political issue recently, Mississippi’s two Republican U.S. senators continue to be ardent participants and defenders of the process.
A probable Senate vote Friday on a $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill could determine the fate of nearly $80 million in funds earmarked by Mississippi’s delegation for the state.
Earmarks, simply stated, are congressional provisions directing approved funds to be spent on specific projects.
In the omnibus bill, Sen. Thad Cochran leads all other senators in the number of earmarks: 65 totaling $75 million for Mississippi projects. Sen. Roger Wicker made nine earmarks for $4.3 million.
When Wicker was the 1st District Congressman and a seven-term member of the House Appropriations Committee, he and Cochran, now in his sixth term, were the leading earmark users in Congress.
Earmarks emerged as prominent issue in the 2008 presidential race. Republican contender John McCain, who remains a senator from Arizona, opposes all earmarks. Candidate Barack Obama, then a Democratic senator from Illinois, promised to halve earmarks.
The omnibus bill, which contains operating funds for nine federal departments for the 2009 budget cycle, passed the House Feb. 25, with 8,700 earmarks but without amendments to the package negotiated by members of the related committees in the House and Senate.
Much of the government has been operating on a continuing resolution since Oct. 1.
The bill is not a conference report – an agreement hammered out in formal Senate-House negotiations – but new legislation produced by collaborative consultation.
Cochran and Wicker expect to vote for the bill, and Obama has said he will sign it.
Both Mississippi senators express reservations about the level of federal spending but defend earmarks as a constitutional practice and policy protective of individual states’ needs.
Cochran said in a statement Wednesday, in response to the Daily Journal’s questions, “The Constitution instructs Congress to determine how federal dollars are spent. Should the Congress forego this constitutionally outlined duty, federal agencies would be given unchecked authority to make spending decisions affecting areas of the country about which they have little knowledge.”
Without congressional direction, Cochran said, rural states like Mississippi would be largely ignored in the funding process.
Wicker, also a longtime earmark supporter, offered a similar explanation:
“As someone who thinks the government spends too much money, I support shrinking the size of the budget. But once the spending level has been set, the most effective way to ensure that federal dollars are directed to projects with the most need and potential for economic impact is to allow the representatives elected by the people to make those decisions. This is something that is clearly defined by our Constitution.”
Only 17 senators don’t have solo earmarks; most have earmarks in concert with other senators.
A McCain amendment to strike all earmarks from the omnibus bill was defeated 63-32 earlier this week.
Some of the senators who voted for striking all earmarks and virtually freezing spending, including Wicker, have earmarks in the bill, as does 1st District U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, who voted against the omnibus bill as excessive spending when it passed the U.S. House.
Contact Joe Rutherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (662) 678-1597.