SID SALTER: Chocola’s right, earmark facts should be on the table

My column also pointed out that earmarks represent less than one percent of total federal spending and the incumbent Mississippi U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran has defended his prior earmarks by stating his concerns over allowing the White House and Washington bureaucrats to make decisions about funding worthy Mississippi public works projects without congressional input.

In response, Rep. Chocola said in part: “Probably the most well-known example of a wasteful earmark is the infamous $400 million ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ in Alaska, which connected an island of 50 people to mainland Alaska. Not only did Senator Cochran vote for the bill that contained the Bridge, but while he was chairman of the Appropriations Committee he also voted against an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn that would have cut funding for the Alaskan bridge and shifted that funding to Louisiana to repair a bridge damaged by Hurricane Katrina. I’ll leave it to Mississippians to decide what was more important –the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska or repairs after Hurricane Katrina in neighboring Louisiana.”

I agree with Rep. Chocola that “all the facts” about earmarks should be on the table since Club for Growth and the primarily out-of-state billionaires who financially back the group is choosing to focus on this issue.

So in the interest of putting forth facts, let’s start here – first and foremost, no single member of Congress did more to provide relief from Hurricane Katrina than Cochran. Second, while a member of Congress in 2005, Rep. Chocola voted for the same “Bridge to Nowhere” appropriations bill that he and his group now castigate Cochran for supporting.

But don’t take my word for it. Indiana political columnist Brian Howey in the Jeffersonville (Ind.) News and Tribune wrote in 2012: “As Congressman Chocola, he was an earmark aficionado, coming at a time when the federal deficits were exploding. In an Aug. 24, 2006 South Bend Tribune article on earmarks for Notre Dame University, Chocola said, ‘I’m happy to defend anything that I would request.’”

The Congressional Record also reflects that Chocola was a fan of earmarks for universities. He brought home congressionally directed funding for Notre Dame University. Called to defend those Notre Dame earmarks in his own state and district, Chocola told BizVoice Magazine in 2006: “The bottom line is not only defending your earmarks but arguing that most of the earmarks that are requested, if they are taken out, they will really not reduce spending. That money will be spent anyway, and it will be spent in an arbitrary formula or by some bureaucrat either in Indianapolis or in Washington D.C.”

Daily Journal
3/19/14