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Public Statements

Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. McCASKILL. Mr. President, I thank Senator Toomey for joining me. He has been a great leader on this since he arrived in the Senate, in terms of the fight against earmarks. I thank him for that.

I also welcome him to our band of warriors in terms of fighting the earmark culture in Washington. It has been a fairly small number of Senators since I arrived here in January of 2007. I will be honest, the Senator spent some time in the House, so he was more familiar with the process of earmarking than I was. When I came to the Senate, I did not really understand how it worked. I did not really get it. I do not think, until you have gotten here and watched it from the inside, you truly appreciate how flawed it is in terms of a way of distributing public money. It really is going in the back room and sprinkling fairy dust. It is really a process that has more to do with who you are and whom you know than merit.

Have there been lots of projects that have been funded that I have supported? Of course. Did I make a decision--a difficult one--to not cherry-pick certain earmarks to go after on the floor? Instead, I have tried, when I got here and realized the problems, to reform the process, not just to say, let's find this one earmark in this bill and gin up an amendment on it; rather, let's try to stop the process in its entirety because it makes no sense. And that is what this amendment does. It actually will stop the process in its entirety.

Why do we need it if we have a moratorium? Why now? Frankly, when I first started saying I wanted to do away with all earmarking, I was laughed at by Members of this body, directly and indirectly.

Sometimes I felt as if people were patting me on the head and saying: Go away. You have no chance to do this. I am proud of the fact that we have gotten a moratorium now. The truth is, there are a lot of Members of this body who want to go back to the old ways, and I think it is very important that we do a permanent ban. I certainly thank the Senator for helping, and I think the amendment we are working on together will make sure we will not have what happened in the House this year.

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Mrs. McCASKILL. I will tell my colleagues that I think for too long too many Senators believed the measure of their worth as a Senator had everything to do with how much money they were bringing home. I have a new idea. Instead of the measure of our worth being how much we can spend, I think the measure of our worth ought to be how much we can save. This place turned on the notion that if one stayed here long enough, if they got to be an appropriator, they got more earmarks. If they became a ranking member on a subcommittee on appropriations, they got even more.

Then I found out about honey pots. I didn't know about honey pots until I got here. I don't know if Senator Toomey is familiar with that term, but let me educate him about what that term means. A honey pot is what the ranking minority member and chairman set aside as their special pot of money that they get to spend on earmarks that is greater than everyone else's. Some of the appropriations subcommittees have honey pots and some don't. The very notion that we are deciding how to divide the money based on how long we have been here, what our party affiliation is, what committees we serve on is not the way we should spend public money. We spend public money based on merit or on a formula based on how many people are in our State.

One of the other things that drives me crazy is this talking point against doing away with earmarks: We can't let the bureaucrats decide. We can't let the executive branch decide. It is the power of the purse. We have had the power of the purse in Congress for hundreds of years. Earmarking is a modern invention. We have the right to oversee the executive budget, change the executive budget, cut the executive budget, and add money to the executive budget. We can do that as a Congress and that has nothing to do with earmarking.

Let me also say this about this talking point: This notion that earmarked money just grows on trees somehow--where does the money for earmarking come from? It comes from other programs. Guess what programs it is taken from. It is taken from programs--I will just say from programs such as surface transportation.

Let's talk about that. We have a local process in Missouri. We have stakeholders all across the State who go to meetings and the public is invited and these agencies work very hard at trying to prioritize their transportation projects based on the economic needs of their community, based on safety considerations. These local folks work very hard to prioritize their projects, and what does earmarking do? It cuts in line. One individual's judgment supplants all the local planning.

This is not about Washington bureaucrats. In a lot of these instances it is about saying: I know better than the people back home know. Look at the Byrne grants, another perfect example. Money for the Byrne grants--which is a State-administered program done on a competitive basis at the State level--they have been stealing money out of the Byrne grants for earmarks so one individual Senator can decide this sheriff needs new equipment as opposed to the State authorities deciding that there may be a crime problem in one area of the State, such as a methamphetamine problem that needs special attention.

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Mrs. McCASKILL. Mr. President, it is easy to see why earmarking is held so dear to so many Members. I remember when I first was elected and people began showing up in my office that, frankly, had not been big supporters of mine. All of us who are here--and if we are brutally honest for the folks back home--we want to be loved. We put ourselves out there for public acceptance or rejection every 2, 4, 6 years. So people started showing up and being very nice to me who had not particularly been supporters of mine, and they were being nice to me and I thought, What is up here? Then all of a sudden I figured it out. They were all showing up to get their earmarks. The people in Missouri--I don't know about Pennsylvania--but in Missouri they are very worried about not having earmarks because they have been fed this line all these years: If we don't have earmarks, we are not going to get anything. We are not going to get our share. We are not going to get as much as we deserve.

Let's take water. Pennsylvania--this is a good example because Pennsylvania didn't get very much in water projects either. I don't know how many rivers there are in Pennsylvania. I should be more familiar with the geography there. But to say that Missouri is a river State is an understatement. I mean, we have the confluence of the two greatest rivers of our country, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, in our State. We have major impact in terms of water projects that need to be done in our State because of how prominent water is in the State of Missouri. But yet we have been way down the line in terms of water projects because we don't have an appropriator on that committee. We have appropriators on other committees but not on that committee.

I keep telling the folks at home, if we compete with other States for water projects, we are going to do just fine, and that is the way it is supposed to work. States are supposed to get what they need and not get the benevolence of Washington because they happen to have somebody who has been here long enough to be on the right committee to have the right chairmanship or the right ranking committee so they can get even more. That is not the way this place should be run. It is not the right way to spend public money.

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Mrs. McCASKILL. I hope we get a vote on this amendment. I am not optimistic about that because, typically--let's be honest--the vast majority of the leadership in this body has typically been appropriators and many of them want to go back to earmarking, and this is on both sides of the aisle.

As I started to point out before, it was the Republican Armed Services Committee in the House that set aside a slush fund and began doing earmarking on the Defense authorization bill. We were able to expose it and stop it, but clearly people are having a hard time breaking this habit. So I think this amendment is very important. I am happy to go toe-to-toe with anyone over the merits of this amendment. I am happy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anyone in this Congress, Republican or Democrat, who is willing to stop this process once and for all.

I think this amendment would do it. I hope we get a vote on it, and if we don't, it will not be the last time I think they will hear from both of us about our bill and how serious we are about getting it passed.

There will come a time that this bill will pass because the American people are on to us. The American people are on to this bad habit. They want it to end and they will have their way. It may not be today, it may not be this week, but I remind the Members of the Senate that it wasn't that long ago people laughed out loud at me when I said there would be an end to earmarking. They thought that was the silliest joke they had ever heard, and we have made a lot of progress thanks to the American people.

By the way, the credit should not go to me or Senator McCain or Senator Coburn--who have been working on this for much longer than I have--it should go to the American people who are figuring this out and rising in record numbers to say: We don't like earmarks. Stop it. We should give credit to them for paying attention. I hope they stay on it, and I hope we will eventually prevail.

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Mrs. McCASKILL. I also yield and thank the Senator for his work. This should be the easiest for us to get done. We have some hard work we have to do around here that is going to mean sacrifice and changes that are not going to be easy for anyone. This ought to be simple, so let's try to get it done.

I yield the floor.

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