SID SALTER: Chocola’s right, earmark facts should be on the table

SID SALTER

SID SALTER

In response to my recent column on Club for Growth’s attempt to define Mississippi’s 2014 U.S. Senate campaign as one that should focus on the question of earmarks, the group’s president released a column entitled: “Salter attack on Club for Growth lacked all the facts.”

Club for Growth’s president, former Indiana Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola, offered the column in response to my prior column outlining how much Mississippi had benefitted from congressionally directed federal spending on public education, public health and safety, transportation infrastructure, the national defense, research, and quality of life issues like water and sewer projects.

My column also pointed out that earmarks represent less than one percent of total federal spending and the incumbent Mississippi U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran has defended his prior earmarks by stating his concerns over allowing the White House and Washington bureaucrats to make decisions about funding worthy Mississippi public works projects without congressional input.

In response, Rep. Chocola said in part: “Probably the most well-known example of a wasteful earmark is the infamous $400 million ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ in Alaska, which connected an island of 50 people to mainland Alaska. Not only did Senator Cochran vote for the bill that contained the Bridge, but while he was chairman of the Appropriations Committee he also voted against an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn that would have cut funding for the Alaskan bridge and shifted that funding to Louisiana to repair a bridge damaged by Hurricane Katrina. I’ll leave it to Mississippians to decide what was more important –the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska or repairs after Hurricane Katrina in neighboring Louisiana.”

I agree with Rep. Chocola that “all the facts” about earmarks should be on the table since Club for Growth and the primarily out-of-state billionaires who financially back the group is choosing to focus on this issue.

So in the interest of putting forth facts, let’s start here – first and foremost, no single member of Congress did more to provide relief from Hurricane Katrina than Cochran. Second, while a member of Congress in 2005, Rep. Chocola voted for the same “Bridge to Nowhere” appropriations bill that he and his group now castigate Cochran for supporting.

But don’t take my word for it. Indiana political columnist Brian Howey in the Jeffersonville (Ind.) News and Tribune wrote in 2012: “As Congressman Chocola, he was an earmark aficionado, coming at a time when the federal deficits were exploding. In an Aug. 24, 2006 South Bend Tribune article on earmarks for Notre Dame University, Chocola said, ‘I’m happy to defend anything that I would request.’”

The Congressional Record also reflects that Chocola was a fan of earmarks for universities. He brought home congressionally directed funding for Notre Dame University. Called to defend those Notre Dame earmarks in his own state and district, Chocola told BizVoice Magazine in 2006: “The bottom line is not only defending your earmarks but arguing that most of the earmarks that are requested, if they are taken out, they will really not reduce spending. That money will be spent anyway, and it will be spent in an arbitrary formula or by some bureaucrat either in Indianapolis or in Washington D.C.”

Facts? Here are the facts. As a congressman, Club for Growth’s Chris Chocola supported some of the same earmarks he now criticizes Thad Cochran for supporting, including funds for universities. While a member of Congress himself, Club for Growth’s Chocola made earmarks and publicly defended earmarks as sound and admirable public policy.

Challenged about the obvious contradictions between the Club for Growth’s views he champions and his own congressional record by the Indiana press, Chocola has pithily said that “the world has changed.” Apparently, he would have us believe that the earmarks that were good for Indiana in 2006 have become bad for Mississippi in 2013.

My original contention, and one that I still believe to be true, is that virtually every public entity in Mississippi has benefitted directly or indirectly from congressionally directed federal spending. The alternative is that the White House Office of Management and Budget or partisan political appointees make the discretionary decisions about such spending rather than the individual members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation – just as Rep. Chocola said back in 2006.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com or (601) 507-8004. Salter works for Mississippi State University as director of the Office of University Relations and is the university’s chief spokesman and marketing officer. His columns represent his opinion only unless otherwise noted.