11.19.10

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Pigford And Cobell Settlements And Earmark Reform

Mr. LEAHY. Mr President, I rise today to express my support for passage of the Pigford and Cobell Settlements. But before I address the need to pass this legislation, I would like to take a few minutes to congratulate the other side of the aisle for keeping their self imposed earmark ban for all of four days.

   Much like Captain Renault in Casablanca I am sure that my colleagues will be shocked, just shocked to know that there are earmarks embedded in the extraneous provisions that have been added to this bill. When I first heard that these water rights bills were being added to Pigford I assumed they simply contained agreements to settle long delayed disputes over water claims with American Indian tribes. And if that were indeed the case, I would offer no objection and encourage the speedy adoption of this package.

   But unfortunately that is only half the story. The reality is that these bills are laden down with pork, to use a phrase I know is a favorite of a few my colleagues. In fact, to single out one project in particular, this package of bills will send hundreds of millions of dollars to one tribe in Arizona to help them make snow at their ski resort, improve water flow to their casino and build fish hatcheries to improve local fish production.

   Now I am not an expert on the specifics of water rights claims in the West or what it costs to build a drinking water system in east central Arizona. To my knowledge I have never met any of the 15,000 members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, which would benefit from this funding, and I hold nothing against them. Perhaps these projects are all crucial to helping provide economic opportunities for the tribe.

   But as a long time member of the Appropriations Committee, I do know an earmark when I see it. And this, my friends, is an earmark. What I find particularly fascinating about this earmark is that it goes to the very state whose Members of the House and Senate have been the loudest voices in opposing this type of spending. Over the last few months, and particularly in the days since the election, Members of the other side of the aisle have been tripping over themselves to take a stronger position in opposition of earmarks. As I noted previously, just this week the Senate Republican caucus took a position to support a complete ban on pursuing earmarks.

   Now that the Senate is considering directing millions of dollars to the needs of their constituents, they are nowhere to be found. And I am just having the hardest time understanding why. Because I also recall a report that two of our colleagues put together this past August on what they believed to be wasteful spending from the Recovery Act.

   In fact I have a vivid memory of how this report criticized an economic development project in Vermont that gave a loan for improvements at a ski area that needed to make upgrades to attract new business. I believe this report also took to task projects that supported economic activities related to casinos in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi.

   I bring this up not to rehash whether these projects are a good use of Federal funds, though I strongly support the Vermont project. I do so to recall the outrage of my colleagues over this spending on ski resorts and casinos and ask, where are they now?

   Where are the so called budget hawks who rail against what they see as wasteful spending now that their colleagues are pushing for an earmark for this same purpose?

   Where are the voices of those who have spoken so strongly against targeted spending in other States, but clearly have no problem with this spending now that it benefits their own constituents?

   The hypocrisy of the situation before us would be unbelievable if was not so predictable. I often advocate for projects that benefit Vermont within the budget framework that the Appropriations Committee has to work with each year. I am confident that the Vermont projects I have helped secure have improved our State's infrastructure, economy and quality of life.

   I am proud of that work and stand by each and every project I have brought back to Vermont. But I cannot remain quiet as the other side of the aisle demagogues this work when it helps one area of the country and then works behind the scenes to slip an earmark of their own through the Senate.

   It is my hope that before the next Congress a measure of sanity returns to discussion of the Federal budget. No one is claiming that changes to the budget should not be made. But the empty rhetoric blaming earmarks as the cause of the current budget deficits obscures the real issues that need to be addressed.

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