Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Clinton: $2.3B in earmarks

By Manu Raju and Kevin Bogardus
Posted: 04/28/08 08:08 PM [ET]

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has requested nearly $2.3 billion in federal earmarks for 2009, almost three times the largest amount received by a single senator this year. The Democratic presidential candidate’s staggering request comes at a time when Congress remains engaged in a heated debate over spending federal dollars on parochial projects.

It also has gained traction on the campaign trail. Presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a longtime foe of earmarks, has called for eliminating what he dubs “wasteful Washington spending.” Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has spurned earmarks, seeking no funds for pet projects in the upcoming fiscal year.

Yet Clinton is continuing to request billions for earmarks, most of which will go to her home state.

The money is needed for homeland security, emergency response and health projects throughout New York, according to documents provided by her office.

The total amount Clinton requested greatly surpasses the $837 million secured last year by Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee who took home the largest dollar amount of earmarks in the current fiscal year’s spending bills. In those bills, Clinton secured $342 million in earmarks.

Clinton’s huge earmark requests have some speculating that the former first lady is preparing for a soft landing should she lose the Democratic primary to Obama and refocus her energy on winning a third Senate term.

Steve Ellis, a vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group critical of earmarks, said the amount is not unusual for a senator hailing from a big state who has long secured pet projects.

“For her to all of a sudden change course would look opportunistic,” Ellis said.
“There’s a decent chance that she is going to remain the senator from New York, and she needs to do what she can to stay the senator from New York.”

Obama has released all the earmark requests he offered since being elected to the Senate in 2004, which totaled roughly $740 million over three years. Obama has also criticized Clinton for not disclosing her requests. Her office would not say how much she requested in previous years.

The documents outlining her most recent requests, however, are broadly defined, with few details on precisely where most of the money would go.

For instance, Clinton asked for an additional $750 million for a homeland-state grant program and another $125 million for an urban-area security initiative in the upcoming homeland security appropriations bill. But it does not say which projects the grants would pay for.

Clinton’s office justified the requests, saying the money is needed after a “staggering” reduction in the Bush administration’s budget proposal that left states and localities “ill prepared to prevent another major terrorist attack.”

In addition, Clinton is asking for grants of up to $400 million for interoperable emergency communication, $335 million for emergency planning, $190 million for port security and $225 million for transit security.

The senator also wants appropriators on the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee to add $10 million to bolster the nation’s emergency 911 network and defense appropriators to add $3.2 million for a program geared toward transitioning members of the National Guard to the construction industry.

In the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education funding bill, Clinton asks for $231 million to go toward monitoring the health of people affected by the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Clinton, said some of the funding for first responders and homeland security is based on need and risk, so New York would receive a portion of the money but so would other parts of the country.

The most specifics the office provided related to her request for the Military Construction spending bill. In that bill, she wants appropriators to provide $7 million to complete construction of a facility at the Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., $6.6 million to construct a fire station in Fort Drum, N.Y., and $8.5 million for a dining facility and community center at a Niagara Falls Air Reserve base.
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