GOP’s promise to end use of earmarks meets its demise

Kyl says effort to secure funds isn’t a violation

By Andrew Taylor
Associated Press / November 28, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans’ ban on earmarks — money included in a bill by a lawmaker to benefit a home-state project or interest — was short-lived.

Only three days after GOP senators and senators-elect renounced earmarks, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the number two Republican in the Senate, got a provision for a whopping $200 million to settle an Arizona Indian tribe’s water rights claim against the government.

Kyl slipped the measure into a larger bill sought by President Obama and passed by the Senate on Nov. 19 to settle claims by black farmers and American Indians against the federal government. Kyl’s office insists the measure is not an earmark, and the House didn’t deem it one when it considered a version earlier this year.

But it meets the know-it-when-you-see-it test, critics said. Under Senate rules, an earmark is a spending item inserted “primarily at the request of a senator’’ that goes “to an entity, or [is] targeted to a specific state.’’

Earmarking allows lawmakers to steer federal spending to pet projects in their states and districts. Earmarks take many forms, including road projects, improvements to home district military bases, sewer projects, and economic development projects.

A key trait is that they are projects that haven’t been sought by the administration in power.

The money for the 15,000-member White Mountain Apache Tribe was one of four tribal water rights claims totaling almost $570 million added to the $5 billion-plus bill. Black farmers will get about $1.2 billion to settle claims that the Agriculture Department’s local offices discriminated against them in awarding loans and other aid. Another $3.4 billion goes to Native Americans who said the Interior Department swindled them out of oil, gas, and other royalties.

A top Democrat scornfully pointed out that the project is going to a state whose GOP lawmakers claim to oppose earmarks.

“I do know an earmark when I see it. And this, my friends, is an earmark,’’ Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said in a prepared floor statement. He said Kyl’s project would help the White Mountain Apaches “make snow at their ski resort, improve water flow to their casino, and build fish hatcheries to improve local fish production.’’

The House is expected to act on the total package after Congress reconvenes tomorrow for the continuation of a lame duck session.

Kyl’s office declined a request for an interview with the senator.