Mississippi senators bank big on defense earmarks, eclipsing most Dems

Mississippi senators bank big on defense earmarks, eclipsing most Dems

Two Mississippi Republicans scored hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks as part of the Pentagon spending bill, eclipsing most Democrats.

Sens. Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Finance: GOP offers measure to repeal arbitration rule | Feds fine Exxon M for Russian sanctions violations | Senate panel sticks with 2017 funding levels for budget | Trump tax nominee advances | Trump unveils first reg agenda Senate committee ignores Trump, House budgets in favor of 2017 funding levels Overnight Finance: CBO finds 22M more uninsured under Senate health bill | GOP agrees ObamaCare taxes must go | Supreme Court to look at Dodd-Frank whistleblower protections | More tax reform hearings | Green light for partial travel ban | MORE, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Roger WickerRoger WickerTrump Navy secretary nominee moves forward to Senate vote 355-ship Navy not a must under Trump's secretary nominee GOP senator: 'Everybody wants to get to yes' on healthcare MORE, junior senator from Mississippi, scored big in the 2011 Pentagon legislation. Cochran voted against it as part of a larger GOP maneuver to restrain federal spending.

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Cochran secured $211.8 million in earmarks in the defense bill, while Wicker clinched $161 million, according to data from Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), a nonpartisan watchdog organization.

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), secured $195 million in earmarks, second only to Cochran among panel members. Wicker’s earmark total was third-highest; he is not on the appropriations panel.

Cochran and Wicker did not provide comments for this article.

It is customary for the leaders of the Appropriations panel to lead in earmarks, so it is no surprise that Inouye and Cochran were among the leaders this year. Cochran also led with most earmarks in the 2010 Pentagon spending bill, according to TCS. 

All but $9.7 million of the earmarks Wicker received were secured with Cochran’s help. Cochran also shared several of his earmark requests with other senators. 

TCS calculates the number and value of earmarks for each member by counting up how many of the disclosed earmarks have a senator’s name attached. That means that the overall number assigned to each lawmaker includes earmarks requested jointly with other senators. 

The defense appropriations bill is usually one of the most heavily earmarked bills in Congress. For fiscal 2011, Senate appropriators approved $2.6 billion in funding for member-sponsored projects.

While Cochran boosted his earmark numbers this time around, his win also comes with a twist. Cochran and 11 other Republicans voted against reporting the 2011 defense appropriations bill out of committee because the bill would bring discretionary spending beyond the 2010 budget resolution. The Senate GOP is voting no on all 2011 spending bills in the Appropriations Committee. 

The move by Republicans to vote against the bill was mainly symbolic, since the committee had a Democratic majority to vote the bill out of the committee and send it for a full Senate vote. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved the 2011 defense-spending bill by a vote of 18-12.

In July, Senate Republicans threatened to oppose the 2011 spending bills if they do not fit within the top-line spending limitations set in a plan previously proposed by Sens. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump takes to Twitter to criticize media Dem senator: Administration crackdown on marijuana is ‘backward and inhumane’ Trump's DOJ gears up for crackdown on marijuana MORE (R-Ala.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillPentagon to address M spent on untested Afghan camouflage: report Federal Election Commission must not shy away from Russia probe Senate Dems warn potential Missouri GOP recruit with opposition research dump MORE (D-Mo.). The Senate has voted several times on the Sessions-McCaskill proposal, which would save an estimated $26 billion below the president’s budget request.

“We are expressing unanimity of support for adhering to a top-line spending level that acknowledges the fiscal problems facing our nation and simultaneously allows us to meet the nation’s needs,” Cochran said in a statement issued July 13.

Steve Ellis, TCS’s vice president, views Cochran’s maneuver as making a “bigger political point” without risking coveted funds for his home state. 

“When you are not the chairman, you have the luxury of voting against something that you know will pass,” Ellis said. “It is a relatively cynical ploy by Sen. Cochran.” 

Cochran, Wicker and Inouye are not the only senators who scored big in the $669.8 billion defense bill. Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE, now the senior West Virginia Democrat, secured $99.3 million in earmarks. The late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who died earlier this year, was the most senior Senate appropriator and had a strong reputation for always securing projects for his state. 

Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDistance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream MORE (D-Iowa) received $96.6 million for projects, according to TCS’s calculations. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidConservative Senate candidate calls on GOP to end filibuster Ex-Reid aide: McConnell's 'original sin' was casting ObamaCare as 'partisan, socialist takeover' GOP faces growing demographic nightmare in West MORE (D-Nev.), who is facing a tough reelection race this year, secured $83.9 million, while Sen. John KerryJohn KerrySenators who have felt McCain's wrath talk of their respect for him Dems see huge field emerging to take on Trump Budowsky: Dems need council of war MORE (D-Mass.) scored $83 million in earmark funding. 

The $2.6 billion earmark total in the spending bill is going to make for an interesting negotiation period with House appropriators. House Republicans have banned pork-barrel projects from spending bills, while Democrats have instituted a moratorium on for-profit earmarks. 

The House Appropriations Defense panel approved a defense bill with $1.22 billion in earmarks for nonprofit entities, according to an analysis by The Hill and TCS. For the 2011 defense bill, House appropriators essentially halved the number of earmarks from the previous bill.

Should Congress actually pass the 2011 defense spending bill this year, defense lobbyists who spoke to The Hill said they expected the House to adopt the Senate’s for-profit earmarks despite the limitations set by both the Democratic and Republican leadership.

Walter Alarkon contributed to this report.