Pork War on the Pacific
In Washington State, Democrats stand behind their record of bringing home the bacon.


Andrew Stiles

Listening to the speeches at Thursday’s massive “Get Out the Vote” rally for Sen. Patty Murray (D) at the University of Washington, one was left wondering: Are the politicians here that out of touch with the political zeitgeist? Or are the voters here just that liberal? The answer may lie somewhere in between, but some of rhetoric on display at the event was mindboggling given the political climate in other parts of the country.

Consider this line from Rep. Norm Dicks (D., Wash.), which was quite the crowd pleaser:

During the Bush administration, I was the ranking member on Interior Appropriations, and [later] chairman. And I must tell you that they cut the Interior budget by 16 percent, EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] by 29 percent, the Foreign Service by 35 percent. And under President Barack Obama we restored that funding, we increased that funding.

In a year when the Democrat trying to succeed Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.), outgoing House Appropriations chairman and notorious pork spender, is promising to ban earmarks and running ads like this one, it is a tad jarring to hear any politician touting (and thousands cheering) what he has done to increase spending.

Another speaker, Rep. Jay Inslee (D., Wash.), noted with excitement the possibility that if Democrats somehow keep control of the House, Dicks would become the next chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “Can you imagine the duo of Patty Murray on the Appropriations Committee and Norm Dicks [as] chair of Appropriations?” Inslee mused. For the GOP, that is certainly a frightening thought.

Because this was her rally, Murray was lavished with praise for her efforts to secure federal earmarks for the state of Washington. “Time and again, she’s come through to support critical public projects, projects that bring jobs to working families, projects to protect lives,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “She has delivered for our communities.”

As I wrote earlier, Murray, who ranks ninth among senators in terms of earmark spending, has all but co-opted her nickname “Queen of Pork” and made her (extensive) record of bringing home the bacon a focal point of her campaign — though she prefers the term “investments.”

Murray’s opponent, Dino Rossi, wants to ban all earmarks until Congress can produce a balanced budget, a pledge he reiterated at a press conference held the same day as the rally. “With Republicans and Democrats alike chasing these earmarks, it’s bankrupting America,” he said. “We need to reel this in.”

Rossi spoke near the site of what had been the Puget Sound Maritime Museum, which was forced to close due to lack of visitors, despite receiving $3 million in earmarks from Murray. He pointed out the nearly $20 million in earmarks Murray has requested on behalf of lobbying firms that currently employ 17 former members of Murray’s staff, including a $1 million earmark for a Canadian company. “We’re talking about jobs created outside the country now,” he said.

Even though earmarks constitute a small portion of the federal budget — less than 1 percent of total spending — Rossi said the current process lends itself to vote-buying and other quid pro quo arrangements by members of Congress. The health-care bill, for instance, was passed with the help of some well-publicized (and aptly nicknamed) special deals — the Cornhusker Kickback, Gator Aid, the Louisiana Purchase. Murray’s influence over federal spending has, quite predictably, netted her almost $700,000 in contributions from lobbying firms since 2005.

Rossi said he will keep his pledge to forgo earmarks even if other senators refuse to follow suit, noting that he is one of a number of candidates running on this message. As for the myriad “investments” Murray has been touting on the campaign trail — they are the symptoms of a much larger problem. “You’ve got to ask a simple question: Where’d she get the money from? From the Chinese? The Saudis? What part of broke don’t you understand?” Rossi said.

Listening to the speeches at Murray’s rally, it would have been easy to forget the economic crisis facing the country, beyond the vague notion that Republicans did something bad, something about a ditch, tax cuts for Donald Trump, and so on — almost as if George W. Bush had still been president these past two years. If — in keeping with the event’s theme of tortured sports metaphors — this base-rousing rally was a glimpse into the other team’s huddle, the message of Washington State Democrats is clear: “We’re not all that concerned about spending/debt levels. Elect us anyway.” A gutsy call, even in the liberal Northwest.

– Andrew Stiles writes for National Review Onlines Battle ’10 blog.