Government & Constitution

Who Got Bought

Last week, when the House passed their pork-stuffed Iraq spending bill that establishes a date certain for withdrawal of American troops, only seven of the 43-member Blue Dog Democrats — a group that purports to fight for fiscal responsibility and strong national security — voted against the bill.

Do the math: that means 36 voted for it. Several members who were reluctant to require withdrawal of U.S. troops by a firm deadline made deals that were greased with bacon from Democratic leadership in exchange for their vote. The final House bill that narrowly passed, 218-212 contained a whopping $24 billion in earmarks that will pay for many pet projects in the home districts of several Blue Dogs.

Blue Dog Democrat Sanford Bishop (Ga.) led the way by helping himself to $74 million to fund peanut storage. He wouldn’t admit his earmark was pork, though. Bishop explained to the Atlanta Journal Constitution that “One man’s pork is another man’s sustenance.”

The California Blue Dogs made out particularly well on the Iraq spending bill. California Central Valley Blue Dogs Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Merced) and Rep. Jim Costa (Fresno) received $20 million for the “cleanup and restoration of farmland” intended for the San Joaquin Valley orchards that suffered an unexpected freeze in January.

Northern California received $60.4 million for the salmon fishery “disaster” in the Klamath River region, largely represented by Blue Dog Rep. Mike Thompson.

It should also be noted that Rep. Sam Farr (D.), who is not a Blue Dog, secured $25 million to help spinach growers in California’s Salinas Valley recover from the E.Coli breakout earlier this year. Other California Blue Dogs voting for the spending bill included: Rep. Joe Baca, Rep. Jane Harman, Rep. Loretta Sanchez and Rep. Adam Schiff.

Fifteen of the 36 Blue Dogs that voted for the bill hail from Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia and Maine — all states with close ties to the fishing industry. These Democrats stand to benefit from a smattering of other earmarks that include:

  • $60.4 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service “to be distributed among fishing communities, Indian tribes, individuals, small businesses including fisherman, fish processors and related businesses, and other persons for assistance to mitigate the economic and other social effects caused by” commercial fishing failures.
  • $120 million to compensate the effects of “Hurricane Katrina on the shrimp and menhaden fishing industries.”
  • $5 million for “losses suffered by the aquaculture businesses including breeding, rearing or transporting live fish.”

The conservative Club for Growth has specifically targeted freshman Blue Dogs Heath Schuler (N.C.) and Tim Mahoney (Fla.) for voting for the bill. Both of them campaigned on fiscal responsibility and support for the troops through the midterm elections. Schuler had attacked Republicans for “irresponsible earmarks” and told voters that “the people of North Carolina deserve better.” Mahoney went further. He had a specific platform in his midterm campaign in which he promised to “cut the pork.”

Schuler said in a statement that he ultimately voted for the spending bill after a lot of “prayer” and talking to his constituents.

After passage of the House spending bill the newly-elected Blue Dog and boyish-looking Iraq war veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy (D.-Pa.), stood proudly with Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a victory press conference. He said, “I had no problem with it. There were aspects that, you know, I wish it was maybe not in there, but you know, it was a great bill. And, I had no problem not only voting for it, but lobbying my fellow members of Congress to vote for it, because it’s very important.”

It is difficult to pin down a specific earmark to a certain member unless someone takes credit for it. Appropriations Chairman Rep. David Obey (D.Wisc.) — trying to deflect criticism from the members he’d porked into voting for withdrawal — was eager to take credit for all the earmarks in a testy exchange on the House floor last week with budget hawk Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.). Flake questioned Obey about a $35 million line-item for the Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center. Obey told him it wasn’t an earmark because he had written it directly into the bill.

“An earmark is something that is requested by an individual member. It was put in there by me!” he fumed. “The fact is it is not an earmark it was not asked for by any member of Congress.”

(In addition to putting sweeteners in for the Blue Dog Democrats, Obey milked the supplemental for himself. He allotted an extra $283 million in dairy subsidies by extending the Milk Income Loss Contract program that will get routed to Wisconsin farmers.)

Blue Dog Rep. Gene Taylor represents the district the NASA building Obey funded. The earmark wasn’t enough to convince Taylor to vote for the bill, though. Apparently some Blue Dogs remember their not-so-distant election speeches.

House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), who is charged with mustering and counting votes said after the bill’s passage, said: “We left people free to deliberate, free to pray, free to do whatever they needed to come to this decision…Every single person has said to me they appreciated us giving them room to work through whatever they needed to work through to get to this decision. So, that’s how we got it.”

When asked about the funding for projects unrelated to the war contained in the bill, Speaker Pelosi defended the earmarks. “Did we ever say we were not going to help the victims of Katrina?” she retorted. “We always said we would provide disaster assistance to our farmers.”

The Senate version of Iraq supplemental is currently being debated and also contains a glut of special projects. Among them is $13 million for the Ewe Lamb Replacement and Retention Program; $40 million for citrus farmers; $24 million for sugar beet farmers; $100 million to fund the 2008 presidential conventions in Denver, Colorado and St. Paul, Minnesota; and $2 million for the University of Vermont to pay for a new “Educational Excellence Program.”

On March 23 President Bush vowed to veto the spending bill if the final version contained a withdrawal date and pork-barrel projects. Of the bill passed by the House he said, “set an arbitrary date for withdrawal without regard for conditions on the ground, and they tacked on billions for pet projects that have nothing to do with winning the war on terror. This bill has too much pork, too many conditions and an artificial timetable for withdrawal.”

36 Blue Dogs for the Iraq Spending Bill, By State
Bud Cramer (Ala.)
Marion Berry (Ark.)
Mike Ross (Ark.)
Joe Baca (Calif.)
Dennis Cardoza (Calif.)
Jim Costa (Calif.)
Jane Harman (Calif.)
Loretta Sanchez (Calif.)
Adam Schiff (Calif.)
Mike Thompson (Calif.)
John Salazar (Colo.)
Allen Boyd (Fla.)
Tim Mahoney (Fla.)
Sanford Bishop (Ga.)
David Scott (Ga.)
Melissa Bean (Illinois)
Joe Donnelly (Ind.)
Brad Ellsworth (Ind.)
Baron Hill (Ind.)
Leonard Boswell (Iowa)
Dennis Moore (Kans.)
Ben Chandler (Ky.)
Charlie Melancon (La.)
Collin Peterson (Minn.)
Earl Pomeroy (N.D.)
Health Schuler (N.C.)
Mike Acuri (N.Y.)
Kristen Gillibrand (N.Y.)
Steve Israel (N.Y.)
Mike McIntyre (N.C.)
Charlie Wilson (Ohio)
Tim Holden (Pa.)
Patrick Murphy (Pa.)
Stephanie Herseth (S.D.)
Jim Cooper (Tenn.)
John Tanner (Tenn.)

Seven Blue Dogs Against the Supplemental, By State
John Barrow (Ga.)
Jim Marshall (Ga.)
Mike Michaud (Maine)
Gene Taylor (Miss.)
Dan Boren (Okla.)
Lincoln Davis (Tenn.)
Jim Matheson (Utah)

Sign Up