Steering Committee benefits from Rep. Young's transportation bill

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who is vying for the chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, has helped dole out more than $1.8 billion in transportation projects to 19 members of the House Steering Committee.
pedro sa da bandeira
The earmarks in the transportation bill include $499 million benefiting the district of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), above.


The 28 members of the Steering Committee, which includes Young, are expected to vote next month on who will be the next chairman of the homeland-security panel. Former Chairman Chris Cox (R-Calif.) resigned from the House this summer to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Young is competing for the gavel against Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and John Linder (R-Ga.). Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif) is also said to be interested in the post.

Young’s chief of staff and legislative director declined to comment for this article.

The $1.8 billion worth of earmarks in the recently passed transportation authorization bill includes $499 million benefiting the district of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, which compiled the totals for The Hill.

Hastert controls five of the steering committee’s 33 votes. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) controls two votes, while the rest of the members each cast one vote. The panel assigns gavels and committee memberships.

Other influential members of the Steering Committee received millions of dollars in projects from the transportation bill that Young played a major role in crafting.

Among the House GOP leadership, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) district received $51 million in projects and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds’s (R-N.Y.) district received $27 million.

Earmark totals could not be compiled for several members of the committee who have not issued press releases on what they won for their constituents in the bill. Those members include DeLay, Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Shadegg (Ariz.) and Republican Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston (Ga.)

The earmarks may offset Young’s vote against the USA Patriot Act. A GOP leadership told The Hill at the time that Young’s vote would hurt his chances of taking over the Homeland Security Committee.

Among the chamber’s most important committee chairmen, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, won $105 million in earmarks, Rep. David Drier (R), chairman of the Rules Committee, won $39.5 million, and Rep. Bill Thomas (R), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, won $722 million. All three represent districts in Southern California.

Even rank-and-file members of the steering committee received significantly more funding for projects in their districts than did their House colleagues.

For example, the district of Rep. Ken Calvert (R), the California Representative on the steering committee, received $38.4 million in earmarks. The district of Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), the Region II representative, received $40 million. The districts of Reps. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), respectively the Region VII and Region VIII representatives, each received about $28 million.

The rank-and-file members of the steering committee each received nearly $25 million in earmarks from the transporation bill. By comparison, rank-and-file members of the House received $12.8 million on average, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy at the self-described non-partisan group that tracks government spending, said Young appears to have bolstered his bid for the Homeland Security gavel.

“He keeps his bosses happy but he also starts to grease the wheels for him to take over the leadership of the homeland security committee,” said Ashdown. “On average the Republican members of the steering committee are getting exponentially more than the average lawmaker…. That group of lawmakers are the biggest winners in the bill.”

When asked about Young’s role in spreading hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects to members of the steering committee, King conceded that it might help Young win the gavel. But King said he was not concerned.

“I would think that the steering committee is going to look for merit not money,” said King. “The person who is most into homeland security and who has worked with it the longest and who can articulate the Republican message on TV, that will take priority over other issues, including different authorization bills.”

Young is facing stiff competition in his bid for the Homeland Security chairmanship from King, Weldon, and Linder.

King has discussed his ambitions to chair the panel with Hastert, DeLay and Blunt. He has also met with and sent a letter stating his qualifications to each member of the steering committee.

King says he should be considered for the chairmanship because he hails from New York, because nearly 150 friends, acquaintances and constituents died as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, and because he is an articulate spokesman of the Republican message. He noted that he appeared on national television at the request of the Bush-Cheney campaign in the final week of the 2004 election.

Weldon has also met with Hastert to discuss the Homeland Security chairmanship. In a letter to Hastert Weldon cited his qualifications for job. He listed his concern for national security during his 20-year career in the House, his founding of the Congressional Fire and Emergency Caucus, and his proposal to create a “National Operations and Analysis Hub,” an agency that would have served as a “data fusion center for all intelligence and law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.”

Weldon has also made waves recently by writing a book critical of the national intelligence community and claiming that military intelligence had prior knowledge of Mohamed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 attackers.

A GOP leadership aide expressed skepticism about Weldon’s claims.

“These kind of stories don’t help your effort and a lot of evidence needs to be looked at before these assertions are made,” said the aide. “It seems an odd effort at this time and may have to do more with media attention than with actual substance during a quite August.”