Arizona Senator decries Defense earmarks for games, museums

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Tuesday decried as “obscene” and “disgraceful” millions of dollars in earmarks in the fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations conference agreement and criticized colleagues for an excess of local and special interest items in the $453.5 billion spending bill.


The conference agreement provides funding for a slew of nondefense projects, ranging from grade-school programs to public parks and museums, many of which were added by appropriators during negotiations on a final version of the bill, McCain said. It is a sign, he said, that the current appropriations process is “broken.”


“I’m sure many Americans wonder if the spirit of sacrifice stops on the steps of the U.S. Capitol,” McCain said. “During a war, in a measure designed to give our fighting men and women the funds they need, the Congress has given in to its worst pork-barrel instincts.”


The 523-page conference report accompanying the spending bill, which passed the House early Monday morning and now awaits Senate action, includes $4.4 million for a technology center in Missouri, $2 million for a public park in San Francisco, $1 million for a Civil War center in Richmond, Va., and $850,000 for an education center and public park in Des Moines, Iowa.


It also earmarks money for several museums, including a $1.35 million allocation for an aviation museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and $3 million for a museum at Fort Belvoir, Va. A $500,000 line item was added in the conference report for the Arctic Winter Games in Alaska, home state of Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens, a Republican.


“We are at war,” McCain said. “How many MREs [Meals Ready to Eat], flak-vests or bullets could we buy with all this money? How many dollars could we return to taxpayers?”


The Arizona Republican also criticized the conference report for containing policy language, which amounts to authorizing on an appropriations measure. Conferees included provisions protecting jobs and workers in Alaska and Hawaii, home states of Stevens and Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Daniel Inouye, a Democrat, respectively.


McCain himself had successfully added a policy provision to the appropriations bill to ban torture of enemy combatants and other detainees held by U.S. personnel. But he said in his remarks that his detainee amendment was deemed germane to the Defense measure.


During his floor speech, McCain also called on other lawmakers to “fix” the appropriations process, and strip spending bills of earmarks. “The sooner, the better,” he said.


“Our system is broken if our national security is at stake and we carry on spending for the special interests as if nothing were wrong,” McCain said. “We want to have it all without making any sacrifices, so we simply borrow the money, pushing off the obligations onto our children and our grandchildren.”


McCain highlighted mostly local funding projects that were added by conferees after the House and Senate passed their own versions of the defense spending bill, items “that none of us have seen before.” But some pet projects survived the entire legislative process.


The conference report includes $2.6 million in Army research and development funds for a long-term hibernation study at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Conferees trimmed $400,000 off the $3 million the Senate bill earmarked for the study.


A House earmark setting aside $2 million in Navy operations and maintenance funds for a study of waterfree urinals survived the conference, though appropriators agreed to give the project $1 million less.


This water conservation initiative had been sought by Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., whose district is headquarters to Falcon Waterfree Technologies, an industry leader in “no-flush” urinals that is trying to expand its federal contracting business.

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