House GOP gets a single earmark in Homeland Security spending bill

All earmarks in the proposed Homeland Security spending bill for 2011 went to Democrats — save one.

Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) was the only House Republican to win a Homeland Security earmark: $800,000 for Federal Emergency Management Administration state and local programs and an emergency operations center in New Orleans. Every other earmark was sponsored by a Democrat.

The remaining $69.15 million in earmarked funds in the Homeland Security bill were for Democrats, a point Republicans were quick to note.

“This is a clear sign that House Republicans’ principled stand for an earmark moratorium and real reform is having an immediate effect," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). "At a time when Washington Democrats’ out-of-control spending is scaring the hell out of the American people, and they refuse to even pass a budget for the first time in modern history, the contrast on the issue of spending and jobs could not be more clear.”

Cao's earmark does cut against the one-year earmark moratorium that Boehner and other GOP leaders have called for. While most of House GOP members are complying with the temporary ban, Cao, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) haven't committed to it.

The $43.9 billion Homeland Security spending proposal was reported out of a House Appropriations subcommittee last week. It's the first of a dozen spending bills for fiscal year 2011 to advance in Congress.

Earmarks are provisions that lawmakers insert in spending bills in order to steer federal money to specific projects.

The Homeland Security spending measure approved last year had $264 million in earmarks. It's too early to say whether earmarked spending will be lower in the 2011 bill, as senators — who tend to be more prolific earmarkers — have yet to take up the measure.

House members, however, appear to be on the path to lower earmark totals. Last year's House Homeland Security spending bill included a total of 146 earmarks requested solely by lawmakers worth $108 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan group. The total for the House bill for 2011 has 73 congressional earmarks worth $57.1 million. (Those numbers don't include earmarks requested by both the Obama administration and lawmakers.)

"Total earmarking is down and not only did Democrats not fill the vacuum left by the Republican earmark moratorium, but they actually cut their own totals as well," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

In the House proposal for 2011, the largest earmarks went to Democrats: $12.9 million for a National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center at Texas A&M University requested by Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas) and the White House; $4.75 million for the North Carolina Collaboratory for Bio-Preparedness at the University of North Carolina requested by North Carolina Reps. Bob Etheridge, Brad Miller and David Price; and $3 million for State and local cybersecurity training at the University of Texas requested by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (Texas).

Earmarks have come under greater scrutiny from both parties. House Democrats have installed a permanent ban on earmarks that go to for-profit entities. Most of those earmarks have been attached to Defense spending bills and have gone to military contractors.

The growing momentum against earmarks is due in part to rising concerns about government spending and the $1.5 trillion deficit expected this year. But earmarked spending for 2010 spending bills accounted for just $10 billion of the $3.5 trillion federal budget.

Earmark watchers said the total number of earmarks was higher -- $15.9 billion, according to the Taxpayers for Common Sense, and $16.5 billion according to the Citizens Against Government Waste. Their totals include both the earmarks disclosed in official legislative reports and money steered toward specific projects by federal agencies at the request of lawmakers.