One of Montana’s U.S. senators has sent a salvo back to the state's sole U.S. representative in a debate over banning earmarks in the U.S. Congress.
“Montanans know the best way to tackle the deficit is to get folks back to work and grow our economy,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., wrote in a letter to Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., dated Tuesday. “The Montanans I talk to want us to support real solutions like infrastructure projects and tax cuts that will bring good-paying jobs to Montana — not political stunts from party bosses in Washington.”
Rehberg this month continued his opposition to earmarks, legislators specifying spending for specific projects in bills being debated in Congress. Last March, he said he would not use earmarks for a year, and when the House Republican caucus convened this month, he joined his fellow Republicans in supporting a two-year ban on earmarks.
Rehberg has said earmarks should be banned in an effort to get the federal deficit under control.
Nov. 18 Rehberg sent a letter to Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a member of the Senate Appopriations Committee, urging them to support a moratorium on earmarks.
“America is fed up with business as usual in Washington, D.C., and with the support of Montanans, I intend to lead the charge for true reform,” Rehberg wrote. “As the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee respectively, I’m asking you to join me in this effort.”
Rehberg spokesman Jed Link said Wednesday, after Rehberg received Baucus’ reply to his letter, that the representative has found overwhelming support for his ban on earmarks in public meetings he has held in Montana. Even Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and President Barack Obama are starting to criticize earmarks, Link said.
Monanans expect action from their government officials, and it is not deficit spending or “the empty promise of government-created jobs,” he said.
“Unfortunately for Montana taxpayers, it seems that Senators Baucus and Tester still don’t get it,” Link added. “They have thrown their saddles on a dead horse. It won't matter how hard they dig their spurs and yell giddy-up, because the wagon train is setting off in a new direction and they're going to get left behind.”
Comments from Tester on the Rehberg letter were not available by deadline this morning.
Baucus wrote to Rehberg that he would not support the moratorium
“The only litmus test I use to evaluate legislation is: is it right for Montana?” Baucus wrote. “For this reason, I cannot support Washington party leaders in their efforts to hamper critical Montana transportation, education and infrastructure projects."
In his letter to Rehberg, Baucus wrote that Montana depends on federal dollars for its projects — 43.5 percent of the money Montana’s 2010 general fund was from federal sources — federal dollars that Rehberg has helped get to the state in the past by adding funding to projects.
“So-called earmarks have been responsible for vital projects to bring jobs, infrastructure and resources to Montana, including the following, which you sponsored or supported,” he wrote, citing funding for The Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System and for The Fort Peck-Dry Prairie Rural Water System, for an animal science research facility at Montana State University in Bozemen and for highway construction from Ekalaka to Alzada.
“Our ability to bring money home for these projects is particularly important to a rural state like Montana, and giving up our ability to do so with the earmark moratorium will hand over even more power to President Obama and larger states like California and New York,” Baucus wrote. “Relying on formulas and cost benefit analyses will favor a city subway system over the Ekalaka-Alzada Highway every time.”
He commended Rehberg for introducing four bills in this session of Congress to provide funding for construction and upkeep of Montana water systems.
“But I worry that projects like these will be banned under the earmark moratorium you signed … ,” Baucus wrote. “Do you intend to abandon these bills next Congress, or have you received permission from the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership to use loopholes in the earmark moratorium and introduce these important Montana bills?”
He said that the Democrats in Congress have worked to increase transparency in earmarks, including requiring that the name of the sponsor is included and that sponsor providing the purpose of the earmark and the name or location of the recipient. Since those provisions were required, the total number of earmark projects has been reduced 35 percent from the record level in 2005, and the total funding for earmarks has dropped 43 percent from the record level in 2006, Baucus wrote.
He added that 0.3 percent of the federal budget comes from earmarks.
Baucus also cited Rehberg himself, quoted in a Great Falls Tribune article last year: “Earmarks are not the problem. They direct money that already exists within the program to a particular area, because who knows their district more than we do? That's our opportunity to make our argument to our colleagues. It doesn't add to the budget.”
Baucus wrote that he believes Congress should be working to reduce the deficit by helping businesses create jobs and letting working families keep more of their money.
“I urge you to join me in this effort to avoid the distractions of political stunts and find real solutions to bring good-paying jobs to Montana and get our economy moving again,” he wrote.