Obama WH gives Congress green light on pork

Hot Air

The President weighed in over the weekend on the controversy over earmarks, using his weekly address to tell Americans that earmarks are “a bad Washington habit,” and that reforming them will “take a step towards restoring public trust.”  Will Barack Obama find the courage to confront his own party’s lame-duck session to stop it from porking up an omnibus spending bill that they have to pass to avoid allowing John Boehner to dictate spending habits for the remainder of FY2011?  Not exactly:

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House ethics panel legalizes bribery

Capitol Hill Blue
By Doug Thompson
Congressional “pay for play” program

The House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct ruled Friday that bribing a member of Congress is legal as long as that member can come up with another excuse for earmarking money for a campaign contributor.

The panel cleared seven lawmakers who added pork barrel earmarks to bills to spend hundred of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds on behalf of companies that poured huge campaign donations into their political warchests.

The 305-page whitewash of a report said it’s OK to accept campaign cash and reward the donor with contracts and earmarks as long as the lawmaker can claim the action was “criteria independent” of the payoff.

The ruling is a slap in the face to a few honest members of Congress who have tried to limit the growing use of earmarks to award those who pump large sums of money into the campaign coffers of elected officials who are willing to perform when paid for services.

With a recent Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations now to spend virtually unlimited amounts on behalf of candidates, the ethics committee ruling opens the door for even more widespread abuse.

“Simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not, on these two facts alone, support a claim that a member’s actions are being influenced by campaign contributions,” said the report.

The report cleared Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and John P. Murtha (D-Pa), who died this month.

The seven were charged with steering $112 million worth of earmarks for clients of the PMA Group, a lobbying firm, after that firm raised more than $350,000 worth of campaign contributions for the members.

The Justice Department still has an open investigation on PMA and the bribes and the FBI raided the lobbying firm’s office and seized its records. PMA folded after the raid.

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Tracking Your Taxes: Defense Bill Pays for Prostate Screenings, Sprinkler System

Fox News

President Obama pledged in August to cut all pork barrel projects from defense spending, threatening to veto any swollen bills that came across his desk — a pledge shattered by nearly 2,000 pet projects that have made their way into the defense budget.

“If a project doesn’t support our troops, we will not fund it,” he said to a meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix. “If a system doesn’t perform, we will terminate it. And if Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with that kind of pork, I will veto it. ”

Just last week, Obama broke his promise as he signed into law the 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill — a $636 billion behemoth loaded with $4.2 billion of pork.

“We should be concerned that we’re getting ripped off,” said Ryan Alexander, president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“The earmarking process is the beginning of figuring out whether or not we’re getting ripped off. Absolutely dollars are being directed, not based on the best decision making process.”

In all, Congress added in 1,720 pet projects, including:

$5 million for a visitors center in San Francisco
$23 million for indigent health care in Hawaii
$18 million for the Edward Kennedy Policy Institute in Massachusetts
$1.6 million to computerize hospital records in Oakland
$47 million for anti-drug training centers around the country
$20 million for the World War II Museum in Louisiana
$3.9 million grant to develop an energy-efficient solar film for buildings
$800,000 for minority prostate cancer research
$3.6 million for marijuana eradication in Kentucky
$2.4 million for handicap access and a sprinkler system at a community club in New York

Lawmakers also added $5 billion for two destroyers, 10 C-17 cargo planes and to develop a jet engine the Pentagon neither wants nor needs. Critics call it classic pork — projects that may save jobs, but not money.

“There is a reason they are added to the Defense appropriations bill, because everyone in Congress knows this is a must-pass piece of legislation”, said Todd Harrison, a budget studies fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Despite the billions in pork, the White House says it’s making progress. The earmarking total is 14 percent lower than it was on last year’s defense bill, and the Obama administration says federal agencies found more than $19 billion in contract savings for 2010. The president has also succeeded in killing funding for the pricy F-22 Joint Strike Fighter and a new presidential helicopter.

Members of Congress are also defending their earmarks. Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., who added the Ted Kennedy Institute to the defense budget, says it is a tribute to the late Senator’s leadership on military technology and safety for our troops.

Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., says she was “proud” to secure $20 million for a new wing of the National World War II museum in her home state.

But a study by the Center of Defense Information says earmarks like those in this bill — including those for the solar film, prostate cancer research, and the New York sprinkler system — mean less money for pilot training, supplies, repairs and ammunition.

Harrison is especially disappointed Congress cut $300 million from a successful counterinsurgency program used by Army field commanders.

“That money is used by commanders on ground in Iraq and Afghanistan to fund small projects that help win over the local population,” he said.