Anchorage Daily News: Both Begich and Murkowski decry earmark ban

Both of Alaska's senators said Tuesday they were disappointed the top Senate appropriator was calling for a moratorium on earmarking, the practice that has directed billions of dollars in federal spending to Alaska.

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski both said they agree there's a need to cut federal spending, but neither thinks an end to earmarks is the way to do it.

"I have said many times before, Alaska is a young state with many needs, and we deserve our fair share of federal funding to develop our resources and our infrastructure," Begich said.

Murkowksi, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she believes it's up to Congress to determine spending. By leaving the executive branch to determine such appropriations, they're ceding power to the White House, she said.

"We are in essence abdicating our constitutional duties, giving cabinet departments and federal agencies the sole power, authority and ability to target and spend taxpayers’ money," she said.

The proposed ban by the Senate Appropriations Committee came after President Barack Obama pledged last week in his State of the Union address to veto any bill with earmarks. As a result, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said Tuesday that he would ban the practice for the next two years.

"The President has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, the Hawaii Democrat who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee, and who was close to former Alaska Sen. said Ted Stevens and often sympathetic to Alaska spending requests.

"Given the reality before us," Inouye said, "it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law."

Both Begich and Murkowski, along with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, have said they'll continue to take appropriations requests from Alaskans. They'll now look for "available avenue to fight for Alaska’s unique needs," Begich said. That includes steering constituents to competitive grant opportunities as well as trying to direct spending in authorizing bills, he said.

"This decision by the Appropriations Chairman means it will be even more important for all of us to seriously consider what we really need," Begich said, "and then be creative when it comes to finding ways to fund the priorities of Alaska’s communities."

Murkowski also said she would use her position on the Appropriations Committee to ensure that Alaska would continue to have healthy ratios when lawmakers are deciding on formula-driven spending.

Although Alaska's congressional delegation has been well-known for decades for dipping deep into the federal cookie jar, it hasn't been as successful in recent years. That's in part because of Stevens' departure, but also because earmarking has fallen out of favor.

The delegation landed $227 million in earmarks in 2009, compared to $87 million in 2010, according to the nonpartisan budget watchdogs at Taxpayers for Common Sense. Alaska went from No. 1 per capita to No. 6.

Critics of earmarking have long said the process erodes public confidence in federal spending by allowing powerful lawmakers -- and not need or merit -- to determine how money is spent in a small portion of the federal budget.

Even though earmarks are only about 1 percent of federal spending and have been under fire for half the decade, it was tea party-affiliated candidates who seized on them this election season as a symbol of out-of-control federal spending.

Their discussion also figured in the 2012 Senate race. Murkowski's Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Joe Miller, called earmarks "the single most corrupting influence in Congress." But both Murkowski and Democrat Scott McAdams both said they would follow former Sen. Ted Stevens' lead and continue to steer as much federal money to Alaska as they could.

The effort to rein them in began in 2010 when House Democrats decided to ban earmarks to for-profit companies. Republicans responded with a one-year, flat-out ban on earmarks in appropriations bills. They voted in November to continue that ban – although it never had Young's support. He flouted the ban and successfully pulled down several specific projects.

Senate Republicans enacted their own earmark moratorium in November, although it was without Murkowski's support. She didn't attend the vote, but said she would have sided with earmarking.




By:  By Erika Bolstad. Originally published on February 1, 2011