By Jonathan Ellis
Argus Leader (South Dakota)
A massive federal appropriations bill that includes a $1 million earmark to create a center for former Sen. Tom Daschle drew heavy fire Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
The earmark would pay for the Thomas Daschle Center for Public Service and Representative Democracy at South Dakota State University. It's among 150 pages of earmarks in a combined bill for education, health services, veterans programs, and other areas of federal government.
The legislation is more than 850 pages and emerged Monday night out of a joint House/Senate conference committee. Within those pages is more than $215 billion of discretionary spending.
Although the bill emerged Monday night, House Democrats pressed ahead Tuesday night to force a vote. That outraged fiscal conservatives, who argue the bill is overloaded with pork.
The earmark surrounding the Daschle center was outed Tuesday morning as an example of the bill's excesses. Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and leading crusader against government spending, denounced the bill because it contains "airdropped" earmarks, including the one for the Daschle center. Airdropped earmarks were added to the bill during conference committee, which means they didn't go through the normal appropriations process.
Under House rules, the bill can't be amended once it comes out of a conference committee: It only gets an up or down vote.
"We're violating our own rules to do this," Flake said. "A million dollars for the Thomas Daschle Center for Public Service and Representative Democracy. We're spending a million dollars on this bill, airdropped into this bill, with no opportunity to amend it out."
Daschle's former colleague, Sen. Tim Johnson, sponsored the earmark along with three other Democratic senators: Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa.
Jerry Jorgensen, dean of SDSU's college of arts and sciences, said the money will pay to archive the papers Daschle collected in his congressional career. Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, donated his papers to his alma mater.
Those papers will be archived electronically, and the money also will be used to finance a research center, Jorgensen said.
Johnson's spokeswoman, Julianne Fisher, said there's nothing unusual about Congress setting aside money to help fund similar projects for Senate leaders. In 1998, for example, an earmark emerged from a conference committee that set aside $6 million to the Robert J. Dole Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at the University of Kansas. Dole was a former majority leader from Kansas and the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 1996.
"Senator Daschle played a critical role in our nation as the Democratic leader in the Senate for a decade and throughout his career in Congress, including a time when we were facing the attacks of Sept. 11, anthrax, and much more," Fisher said.
Reached by e-mail Tuesday, Daschle said the appropriation would be used to complete plans for the center.
"Virtually every Senate leader has established a school for public service," Daschle said. "I have visited several. Most recently, I spent a day with Trent Lott at his school in Mississippi." Lott is a longtime Republican senator and former majority leader.
It's not just the appropriation that angered some, but how it was done. When asked who added the earmark, Fisher said that Reid's office took the lead and deferred comment there.
Reid, who became majority leader after Democrats took control of the Senate last year, vowed to end the practice of stuffing appropriations bills with mysterious earmarks. The practice became an art form under Republican control of Congress.
Reid's office did not return a phone call for comment Tuesday.
The legislation could make it to the Senate this week. Unlike the House, senators can challenge the earmarks.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., probably will try to strip the Daschle earmark and others from the bill when it reaches the Senate, said Coburn spokesman John Hart. Coburn is considered one of the staunchest fiscal conservatives in the Senate.
Hart said the move to add earmarks during conference committee violated Senate rules.
"Naming a pork project for representative democracy after Thomas Daschle through an illegal process is insulting to taxpayers," Hart said. "Plus, every dollar directed to this dubious tribute to Daschle is a dollar that isn't available to fund the health and education programs in the underlying bill."
When asked about the propriety of the Dole earmark, Hart said: "That was stupid then, and it's stupid now. That's what caused Republicans to lose their majority."
Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said there should be a rule barring the federal government from using taxpayer money to pay for a program named after a politician unless that politician has been dead for at least 20 years.
"All of those projects that are named after members are simply evidence of how they're wasting our money," he said.