Murtha remains the king of pork

His pet projects draw $150 million, put him atop list

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WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania's Rep. John Murtha is still the king of the earmark.

  
John Murtha

The Johnstown Democrat has snagged more than $150 million in pet projects in the massive 2008 defense appropriations bill, putting him ahead of all 434 other House members, according to an analysis this week from Taxpayers for Common Sense, or TCS, a watchdog group.

Mr. Murtha's ascent is not surprising. When his party won control of Congress last year, Mr. Murtha, one of the most senior members, again became chairman of the House's powerful panel on defense spending.

But Democratic leaders have called for a 50 percent reduction in earmarks this year, in keeping with their campaign promise to clean up a process that has become tainted by rapidly growing spending and several high-profile scandals, including the imprisonment of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California lawmaker who was convicted of bribery.

For the first time, House members are required to certify that they have no financial interest in the earmarks they sponsor through public letters to the appropriations committee. Also, the committee has released a report pairing sponsors with their earmarks.

The House is considering a $459.6 billion defense spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year, containing 1,337 earmarks with a price tag of about $3 billion.

Mr. Murtha is the recipient of 48 earmarks worth $150.5 million. Last year, his earmarks were valued at about $80 million to $100 million, said Steve Ellis, a vice president for TCS.

The increase may follow the change in Mr. Murtha's power status, but it also comes as other members are seeing a cut in their share of the earmark pie.

"He certainly wasn't sharing the pain," Mr. Ellis said. "There were the little people, and then there was Chairman Murtha."

TCS and other watchdog groups don't object to all earmarks, he said. But, "we're opposed to picking projects based on the size of the politician and not on the merits of the project."

Mr. Murtha has said his staff carefully vets each proposal.

His office planned to release a detailed description of its earmarks when the House approves the appropriations bill, which could happen this weekend.

The TCS analysis describes the projects, but it doesn't identify the companies or organizations that will receive federal money. For instance, one of Mr. Murtha's requests involves $2.5 million for advanced night vision centers for the Army.

TCS plans to release a more detailed listing later this summer. But Mr. Ellis said Congress, not watchdog groups, should be compiling this information for the public.

Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Defense Appropriations Committee, received the second highest earmark total in the defense bill, topping $117 million.


Jerome L. Sherman can be reached at jsherman@post-gazette.com or 202-488-3479.


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