By Libby Casey
Alaska’s Senators reacted with disappointment at word that the Senate’s top appropriator is banning earmarks for two years. Appropriations chairman Senator Daniel Inouye , a Democrat of Hawaii, has long been a supporter of earmarking. But he released a statement yesterday saying that “the handwriting is clearly on the wall” that earmarks have to go. President Obama has pledged to veto any legislation that includes earmarks, and the House Republicans say they won’t pass bills containing them. So Inouye says while he continues to support the right of members of Congress to make direct funding decisions, he’s banning earmarks for the next two budget cycles. The Chairman said he WILL revisit the policy next year.
Both of Alaska’s Senators say they want to see the budget reigned in – but that slashing earmarks is the wrong way to go. Earmarks make up less than 1 percent of federal spending, but have been called corrupting influences by some Senators such as John McCain.
Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Mark Begich say they’ll honor Inouye’s rule, but that they’ll keep soliciting project requests from Alaskans. Murkowski sits on the Appropriations Committee and says many funding sources for Alaska projects are formula-drive, so she’ll keep fighting for those.
Senator Begich says he’ll work for funding through authorization bills on his committees, and warned that it will take creative methods to fund the priorities of Alaskan communities. He says Alaskans will have to “seriously consider” what they really need.
The clamor against earmarks has been gaining steam in recent months… Senate Republicans decided late last year to ban earmarks from their own ranks, a move Murkowski argued against. She says earmarks are a logical way for Congressional members to send money home to where they know it’s needed, and she notes that the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse.
Alaska is number six in states bringing in earmark dollars per capita. It used to be number one, and enjoyed a legacy of earmark-largess due to Senator Ted Stevens’ role as a top appropriator, and Congressman Don Young’s former positions at the top of committees.