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After health care vote, members turn to earmark requests

by Anupama Narayanswamy and Bill Allison

[Note: this post has been corrected and revised]

A day after Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and ten other House members compromised on their pro-life objections to the bill to deliver the necessary yes-votes to pass health care reform, [Begin new:]On Monday, March 22, House members turned from the contentious vote on the trillion dollar national health insurance reform to focus on more mundane matters--like requesting $84,400 for local geriatric health care education programs.

That was one of more than 170 earmarks requested by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., one of 11 lawmakers who were closely targeted by the Democratic leadership after they raised objections to voting for the Senate bill.[End new] The Stupak 11 were the focus of high level pressure by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats because they threatened to vote against the health care reform bill, which passed the House on Sunday, March 21, by a seven vote margin.

Granting earmark requests are one of the ways leadership can encourage members to vote their way, [Begin new:] so we've decided to follow how earmark requests play out for some key members of Congress, starting with the Stupak 11. While members can request all the earmarks they want, the Appropriations Committee determines which are funded and which aren't.

Earlier this month, House Republicans decided to forgo earmarks for the 2011 appropriations process. House Democrats barred earmarks to for-profit companies, which mostly impacts contractors seeking earmarks from the Defense Appropriations bill.

As a group, [end new] ;requests by members of the Stupak 11 requested the group of lawmakers most released their fiscal year 2011 earmark requests, which total more than $3.5 billion in earmarks--an average of $314 million worth of earmark requests for each lawmaker. *

Stupak requested more than $559 million in earmarks, including $125 million for a replacement lock on the Sault Ste. Marie, $25.6 million to build a federal courthouse in Marquette, Mich., $15 million to repaint the Mackinac Bridge and $800,000 to preserve the Quincy Mining Company smelter near Hancock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.



In 2009, the first year that members disclosed earmark requests, many members requested far more earmarks than were funded by the Appropriations Committee, which approves or denies requests. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Stupak's funded earmarks--including those he requested jointly with other members--totaled $28.6 million. [Begin new] Stupak's requests from 2010 were not available on his Web site; his office did not respond for multiple inquiries for the older requests for comparison purposes.[end new]

Of the eight lawmakers whose 2010 requests were available for comparison, five requested more money this week than they did a year ago: Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio and Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Ohio.

Despite a newly enacted ban on earmarks to for-profit firms, Stupak requested a total of $52 million for companies in his district out of the $65.9 million he requested from the Defense Appropriations bill.



Requests from Costello increased the most, but that was due to a $1.35 billion request to fund federal program called Impact Aid, which assists local educational agencies. Costello, along with 44 other lawmakers, signed a letter sent to the Appropriations Committee requesting the funds [Begin new]; he included the request in his earmark disclosures.[end new.]

Universities and non-profit organizations may reap the benefits of the new policy barring earmarks to for-profit businesses, but companies won't be entirely shut out. Stupak requested a $4 million earmark for the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that researches and develops new strains of seeds--including through genetic engineering--to aid U.S. agriculture. The consortium's membership includes "39 agribusiness companies and trade associations," according to Stupak's request.



The Reporting Group will follow the appropriations process to try to determine where political influence plays a role in which earmark requests are funded.

*-We had errors in the spreadsheet that accompanied this story. Rep. Charlie Wilson's earmark requests were overstated by a factor of ten, as were FY2011 requests of Rep. Stephen Dreihaus and Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper. The spreadsheet has since been corrected, as has the story. We regret the error, and have posted more details here and here.