Earmark Hypocrisy? GOP Leaders Grilled on Spending

Jon Karl presses Sens. John Cornyn and John Thune to explain GOP double-talk.

WASHINGTON, Dec.15, 2010 -- Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and John Thune, R-S.D., held a press conference today to rip the Democrats' new 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus bill for containing $8 billion worth of earmarks.

"The bill is loaded up with pork projects, and it shouldn't get a vote," Thune said.

"I think this is an outrage," railed Cornyn.

But Thune and Cornyn have tens of millions of dollars for their own earmarks in the bill, including Thune's request for $8 million for B-1 bomber fleet maintenance and Cornyn's request for $1.6 million for the Texas Army National Guard Counter-Drug Task Force.

"How do you have any credibility on this?," asked ABC's Jon Karl.

"Because we're going to vote against the bill," said Cornyn. "This is the wrong way to do business."

"Senator, were you wrong when you put these earmarks in before," Karl asked.

"Karl, this is not just about earmarks," said Cornyn. "Earmarks are a symptom of wasteful Washington spending that the American people have said they want reformed. We agree with them, and that's why we will vote against this bill. But you're missing the story if you think it's just about earmarks. This is about a flawed process of sweetheart deals cut behind closed doors, and a big bill, a spending bill, dropped on the American people and on us on December the 14th, without adequate time to amend it and debate it and to reveal to the American people what is in it so they can cast their judgment."

"So I think -- I think that's to me the context. And we've said very clearly -- we voted for an earmark moratorium. We will abide by that, and we will reject any earmarks requested by us or anyone else, because that's what the American people told us they want."

"Is that an acknowledgement that what you did was wrong, to put the earmarks in in the first place?" Karl said.

"I think you've asked the question about five times, and I've tried to answer it to the best of my ability," Cornyn responded.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another Republican, anti-pork crusader, has said he would file an amendment to eliminate all earmark funding in the bill. For around 6,488 earmarks, he said, that comes to about $8.3 billion.

"I thought that the message was pretty clear, that the American people said, 'Enough with the spending, enough with the pork barrel earmark spending, enough of mortgaging our children's and our grandchildren's futures,'" McCain said on the Senate floor last night.

"The American people said just 42 days ago, 'Enough.' Are we tone deaf? Are we stricken with amnesia? What is going on here?"

"When we're running record deficits, when there's a $40,000 debt for every man, woman, child in America, we're going to have 6,488 earmarks totaling nearly $8 billion -- $277,000 for potato pest management in Wisconsin. You'll notice that there is a location for literally every one of these earmarks -- $246,000 for bovine tuberculosis in Michigan and Minnesota, $522,000 for cranberry and blueberry disease breeding in New Jersey, $500,000 for oyster safety in Florida. One of my favorites, $349,000 for swine waste management in North Carolina. Another one of my all-time favorites that's always in there, $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama."

McCain even unveiled his top 10 list of pork projects in the bill. At No.1? $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and other conservative senators want to force an oral reading of the massive bill on the Senate floor, which could take up to 60 hours.

"Americans didn't vote in November to ram through Obama's agenda in December," said DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton. "Congress should do what's necessary, stop tax increases and fund the government with a continuing resolution, and then wait for other important debates until the leaders Americans just elected are seated. This is a desperate last-minute rush by politicians thrown out of office to ram through deficit spending, pork-barrel earmarks and a treaty that could weaken national security on their way out the door."

Senate Democrats are now trying to dual-track the omnibus bill with the Start nuclear treaty with Russia. But Congress needs to act fast. If lawmakers do not extend funding for the government by Saturday night, then the government will shut down.