Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ron Johnson, Appropriator

This week Ron Johnson was appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the one in charge of spending the taxpayer money that makes the government work. It's one of the most powerful cliques in Washington and a seat at its table immediately wins one many new friends, all of whom are looking for a piece of the federal pie.

Like every other member of the Senate, members of the Appropriations committee can earmark federal funds for various projects in their home states (and, less frequently, in others). Often times these earmarks are co-sponsored with other legislators, but sometimes the earmarks are sponsored by a single member. Not surprisingly, when folks hear stories about "pork projects" it usually involves an solo-sponsored earmark.

Between FY 2008-10 the 23 Senators that held seats on the Appropriations committee during the 111th Congress* made 2526 solo earmark requests to the tune of $3,832,501,273. That comes out to about $166,630,490.13 per member.

If we look at the break down of the committee along partisan line, the numbers look like this:
1602 total Democratic earmarks

100 per member

Total Dems: $2,280,152,098

$142,509,506.16 per member
And for the GOP:
924 total Republican earmarks

132 per member

Total GOP: $1,552,349,175

$221,764,167.86 per member
Let me just reiterate that these are requests. The numbers don't reflect earmark money that actually made it to the various states.

As you can see, Republican appropriators on the committee weren't stingy with their earmark requests, despite the emergence of the tea party's jihad against the practice. Only one member of the committee requested zero earmark dollars -- even though he requested one solo-sponsored earmark. That member was actually Democrat Mark Pryor.

If we throw in earmarks that are co-sponsored by colleagues, these figures blow-up. Let's use Sen. Richard Shelby as an example. If we add up all the earmark requests he made with other legislators the final tally jumps from 202 to 437 at a cost of $922,767,950 or about double the size of his solo projects. This is pretty emblematic of every member's earmarking activity.

I bring this up because Johnson made earmark reform a staple of his campaign and has promised to eliminate them once in office. Here's the problem: it will be nearly impossible to do this while sitting on the Appropriations committee, especially since Sen. Kohl is also a member. If someone from Wisconsin approaches Johnson to make a case for an earmark and is rebuffed, that party can now just go straight down the hall and make the same case to Herb Kohl. If Kohl manages to accommodate said party, Johnson looks ineffective. It doesn't matter that Johnson denied the request on ideological grounds, at the end of the day the petitioner will only care about the results.

Johnson has boxed himself into a corner with his spending rhetoric. If he flinches and gives in to an earmark request he looks foolish, if not downright hypocritical. There would be no acceptable excuse, there would be no way to spin such a move. If he manages to hold his ground against earmarks, how can he then come back to Wisconsin and say "I've made your federal tax dollars work for you"? What will he be able to point as tangible evidence of his successes in Washington?

Right now Wisconsin is a donor state in terms of federal taxes dollars. Between 1981-2005, Wisconsin contributed $567 billion dollars to federal coffers while only receiving $472 billion back. That's 83 cents on the dollar. Our contribution is in 9th among the states even though we rank 20th in population. In terms of what we get back from Uncle Sam, Wisconsin ranks 43rd.

Now if you're inclined to look at those numbers as yet another example of how the feds screw the taxpayer consider this: Alabama has 900,000 fewer residents than Wisconsin (ranking 23rd in population) and yet sits all the way down at 47th in terms of tax contributions while receiving $1.44 for every dollar they send to Washington. DC is working over time for Alabama.

Some might look at this disparity and say that it's unfair. Others might suggest that this is just part of living in a republic -- Alabama, after all, does do things for Wisconsin. But what everyone should take away from this exercise is that the money Wisconsin does get back from Washington is important, way too important to have our representatives refusing it.

Johnson is all but certain to sponsor an earmark sometime in the near future. He may not be the only one sponsoring it, but even a co-sponsorship will warrant an avalanche of justified criticism. It's only a matter of time.

* To make the math easier I included FY2008 in the totals, even though some members of the Appropriations committee didn't hold seats until FY2009. Totals for each committee member can be found in the comment section. Figures via Legistorm.


Jb said...

Name -- Solo Earmark #: cost

Inouye -- 210: $655,307,595
Leahy -- 181: $182,074,385
Harkin -- 148: $191,880,080
Mikulski -- 59: $58,805,300
Kohl -- 154: $158,097,560
Murray -- 150: $343,377,267
Feinstein -- 144: $185,567,505
Durbin -- 151: $136,952,850
Johnson -- 78: $47,699,635
Landrieu -- 120:$125,441,250
Reed -- 83: $97,818,831
Lautenberg -- 13: $2,845,650
Ben Nelson -- 56: $62,249,440
Mark Pryor -- 1: $0
Tester -- 23: $11,084,820
Brown -- 31: $20,949,930
Cochoran -- 308:$541,529,975
McConnell -- 134: $298,062,000
Shelby -- 202: $426,234,050
Hutchinson -- 131: $116,173,400
Alexander -- 35: $33,869,000
Collins -- 17: $28,604,000
Murkowski -- 97:$107,876,750

CJ said...

Thanks for the link to Legistorm Chief.