MINNEAPOLIS, MN–This lame duck session will be the last for outgoing 18-term Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN). But old habits die hard, including requesting tens of millions of dollars in earmarks in the omnibus appropriations bill before Congress. Oberstar leads the Minnesota House delegation in the appropriations process that’s come to be called pork barrel spending, attaching his name to 29 separate requests, including 23 for Minnesota pet projects. On the Senate side of the ledger, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) requested 77 earmarks in the bill, while Senator Al Franken (D-MN) requested 68 earmarks, joining other members of the state delegation on many requests.
Overall, Minnesota’s representatives in Washington have requested 101 earmarks worth a total of $85,271,000, some $17 million more than last fiscal year. What makes the current figure particularly noteworthy is that three members of Minnesota’s delegation (Congressmen Bachmann, Kline and Paulsen) did not request any earmarks, opting out of the controversial process that’s become a lightning rod for many voters. For the previous fiscal year of 2010, the Minnesota delegation boasted 102 earmarks that cost taxpayers more than $68 million.
“It’s a process based not on merit but on political muscle,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of D.C.-based Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We want to shift the funding decisions to be based on merit, competition or formulas with clear criteria and metrics to evaluate them.”
Included in the long list of Minnesota requests is $500,000 for a study on the Northern Lights Express, the high-speed rail connection to Duluth that Oberstar has eyed for years. Recently, some rail projects have come under greater scrutiny, including the Northstar Commuter Rail line that Cong. Oberstar helped champion with a $53.9 million earmark. Combined with Wisconsin Governor-Elect Scott Walker’s request to put all rail projects on hold, which would jeopardize the planned Minneapolis to Milwaukee line, the Northern Lights project seems like a train to nowhere.
Two more Minnesota earmarks were singled out on the U.S. Senate floor as examples of wasteful spending. Senator John McCain lambasted a $246,000 earmark for bovine tuberculosis in Michigan and Minnesota. He also cited a $727,000 earmark to compensate ranchers in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan whenever endangered wolves eat their cattle.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gray Wolf program is under intense scrutiny for wasting millions of taxpayer dollars every year to recover endangered wolves that are now overpopulating the West and Midwest,” McCain said.
The omnibus appropriations bill now before the Senate runs almost 2,000 pages and totals $1.1 trillion in funding. The measure contains some 6,488 earmarks that will cost taxpayers $8.3 billion.
Minnesota has become accustomed to earmarks over the years, often due to outgoing Congressman Oberstar, who served as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Now, it seems the once powerful committee head is sending taxpayers their final invoice after 36 years in Congress.
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