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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 CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom line Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden, lawmakers start down a road with infrastructure OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan | House GOP's planned environmental bills drop Democratic priorities | Advocates optimistic Biden infrastructure plan is a step toward sustainability On The Money: Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan | Democrats debate tax hikes on wealthy | Biden, Congress target semiconductor shortage 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 SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBiden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden administration should resist 'slush-fund' settlements MORE (R-Ala.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality 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 RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World 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 HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWe need a voting rights workaround Romney's TRUST Act is a Trojan Horse to cut seniors' benefits Two more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers MORE (D-Iowa) received $96.6 million for projects, according to TCS’s calculations. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWhite House races clock to beat GOP attacks Harry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' The Memo: Biden seeks a secret weapon — GOP voters MORE (D-Nev.), who is facing a tough reelection race this year, secured $83.9 million, while Sen. John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy: Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard |  White House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill Kerry to visit China ahead of White House climate summit CO2 tax support is based in myth: Taxing essential energy harms more than it helps 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.