Pork on Their Way Out the Door: Departing Lawmakers Got Perks Into Spending Bills

Only a handful of the 22 House and Senate members to lose in either a primary or the last general election voted against the cromnibus.

Fourteen voted for it, seven opposed it, and one, Rep. Ralph Hall, a Texas Republican, did not vote.

With nothing to lose, outgoing legislators, whichever way they voted, no doubt had an easier time with their decision, said Tracy Carlton, a Republican political strategist.

“Some of them stuck to their guns, and said, ‘no way,’” he said. “Others saw the opportunity to fund pet projects one last time and took advantage of it. Who can blame them?”

That group includes Rep. Dan Maffei, a New York Democrat who lost in November but spearheaded funding in the National Defense Authorization Act for the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, N.Y. The NDAA goes hand-in-hand with the cromnibus as the government’s major spending bills.

Projects like the Tubman park drew the ire of fiscal conservatives. It’s not that a museum honoring the former slave, abolitionist and underground railroad legend might not be worthy. But funding of projects that have little, or nothing, to do with defense shouldn’t be in a defense bill, they say.

‘Land Grab’

What’s worse, says Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), is that the project is part of an “extreme federal land grab” that puts hundreds of thousands of acres under federal control.

The NDAA provisions would designate nearly 250,000 acres of new wilderness, protect tens of thousands of additional acres from drilling and mining, and create a slew of new and expanded national parks and reserves.

The Tubman park provision, Maffei said in a statement, is “a huge victory for Auburn and all of Central New York.”

Therein lies the problem, conservatives and watchdog groups say.

“Everyone talks a good game about cutting spending and trimming the fat, but when it comes to their own district, God forbid anyone mess with the pork,” Carlton said.

Added a congressional aide for a Texas Republican, who spoke only on condition she not be named: “Every local project’s a ‘crucial’ project — a project that would be ‘devastating’ to lose. Problem is, every project is local to someone. Where does it end?”

Final Giveaways

Among the other provisions in the NDAA and cromnibus to rankle waste-watchers:

  • Sen. Kay Hagan — another casualty of the November elections — made sure the NDAA included a provision to scrap the U.S. Air Force’s inactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Airfield in her home state. As usual, “strategic importance” and “critical” defense needs were cited as reasons for the move. “I believe there is not a strategic case to be made for inactivation of the unit, which provides critical air support and ensures the readiness of units at Fort Bragg,” Hagan said in a statement.

  • Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), who lost in November after just one term in Congress, scraped up enough support in his waning days in the House to save the A-10 — the primary aircraft flown at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. One guess as to whose district the base lies in. Cost to taxpayers: $337 million for a program both the Air Force and Obama asked to be scrapped. Again, the language used to defend the funding makes it sound like the United States would be left defenseless without this and other programs. “It’s absolutely crucial that we pass this legislation to fund these vital services and programs for Southern Arizona families and service members,” Barber said.