Dem senator says House Defense bill contains $834 million in earmarks

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) issued a report Monday claiming that $834 million in earmarks were inserted by House members into the 2012 Defense authorization bill in an amendment process that circumvented the House earmarks ban.

But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) disputes McCaskill’s report, a spokesman said, arguing that the amendments are not earmarks.

The report is the latest step in McCaskill’s offensive against congressional earmarks, which are under a temporary, non-binding ban in the House and Senate for the 112th Congress. McCaskill and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced legislation calling for a permanent ban on earmarks last month.

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McCaskill says House members “boldly flaunted” the earmark ban in the Defense policy bill, as 115 of the 225 amendments to the House authorization bill amounted to earmarks through a fund set up by McKeon, according to the report.

“These representatives can insist all they want that they don’t do earmarking anymore — but if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” McCaskill said in a statement announcing the report.

McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin said that McCaskill labeled any change in spending levels as an earmark, ignoring congressional budget authority to set spending priorities. He said the section of the bill containing the amendments that McCaskill is highlighting was dropped from the bill before it went into conference committee anyway, making her report moot.

“We as point of pride never take hollow budget authorization into conference, so the whole title was dropped,” Chafin said. “If Senator McCaskill had been seriously concerned about government waste, why focus on the most transparent process to ever be applied to the defense bill, and why devote countless hours of taxpayer funded staff time to provisions that didn't make it past the House?”

Among the 115 amendments McCaskill characterized as earmarks, Democrats submitted 75 and Republicans 40.

McCaskill initially complained about alleged earmarks in the House Defense authorization bill back in May, which sparked Monday’s report from her congressional office.