Alternate engine tests Republicans’ anti-earmark resolve

Thomas Schatz Citizens Against Government Waste
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The House, the Senate, and President Obama have all agreed that there will be no earmarks for the next two years. That resolve will be immediately tested when the House takes up the extension of the fiscal year (FY) 2011 continuing resolution (CR) this week.

The CR includes $450 million for the alternate engine to the Joint Strike Fighter. A bi-partisan amendment will be offered on the floor of the House to strike the funding. The vote on this massive anonymous earmark will be a seminal moment for the House and particularly for the entire Republican freshman class. Many of the new legislators signed the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CCAGW) “No Pork Pledge” or otherwise promised to not request earmarks, and all of them agreed to the two-year earmark moratorium that was adopted by House Republicans. This is the first test of their willingness to live up to their election-year promises.

If the freshmen Republicans vote for the amendment to eliminate the engine, which will cost taxpayers $3 billion, they will both meet the voters’ expectations and distinguish themselves from the Republican pro-defense earmark trend in the 111th Congress. CCAGW rated 120 House votes in 2009, and 67 were related to earmarks. There were 56 votes on non-defense earmarks and to their credit, a majority of Republicans voted to eliminate 48 of the 56, or 86 percent. On the 11 defense-related earmarks, however, a majority of Republicans voted to cut only two earmarks, or 18.2 percent.

If the freshmen Republicans vote against the amendment, they will be perpetuating the disturbing pattern on wasteful defense spending that also appeared during the May 27, 2010 vote on an amendment to eliminate $465 million in funds for the alternate engine in the FY 2011 Defense Authorization Act. This was the first House floor vote on the program, and Republicans failed miserably.

Their pledge in March 2010 not to request earmarks for FY 2011 clearly did not preclude them from voting for one. It was not even close, as 57 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, and 116 voted against; on the other hand, 136 Democrats voted for the amendment and 115 voted against. Top Republican leaders, including then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and several others, all voted against the amendment. They are leading the effort to cut $100 billion in spending in the CR; they should be supporting the amendment to eliminate the extra engine earmark.

Aside from the claims that the alternate engine would save money and increase competition, which have been soundly debunked by the Pentagon and independent military analysts, some proponents have argued that funding for the engine is not an earmark. For example, Jack Gansler, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, said that the engine is “not an earmark for some pork project…Rather, it’s an honest difference of opinion over national security, procurement, and public policy choices.”

That’s what the big porkers in Congress say about all earmarks. In addition to the alternate engine clearly meeting CCAGW’s long-standing definition of an earmark, taxpayers know a big fat earmark when they see one, and they know when members of Congress are failing to live up to their promises to stop feeding at the trough.

If the House and Senate do not cut the funding for the alternate engine in the CR, the fate of the program will depend on whether President Obama carries out his threat to veto any legislation that includes funding for the program. Since supporters of the engine know that he is averse to shutting down the government by vetoing a CR, they see the bill as their best opportunity to keep the wasteful program going. The fate of the alternate engine is a key test of whether all of the talk about stopping earmarks is rhetoric or reality.

Tom Schatz is the president of the Council for Citizens against Government Waste.