Shelby’s pork in cold storage
Senator loses control over appropriations in Democratic takeover
By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Richard Shelby is leaving behind a long wish list of federal funds for home-state goodies with the adjournment of Congress.
And he’ll have a harder time playing Santa Claus next year as his party slips into the minority and he loses his gavel over the appropriations subcommittee he has chaired for two years.
It was that gavel that allowed Shelby to stuff his panel’s fiscal 2007 spending bill with Alabama pork — “earmarks” as large as $30.4 million for a new FBI forensics training center at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville and as small as $100,000 for a music outreach program at The University of Alabama.
But after losing their majority in the November elections, GOP leaders decided to punt the already overdue spending bills into next year, leaving them to Democrats to finish. As a result, Shelby finds himself suddenly beholden to the party he abandoned in 1994 to become a Republican, and some of his pet projects could have to make way for the wishes of newly empowered Democrats. In a worst-case scenario, they could all be stripped from the bill for at least a year.
‘The pendulum swings’
“I’d rather be in the majority than the minority,” Shelby joked. “But we’ll be back. The pendulum swings.”
Shelby, who had pressed to finish the bills before adjourning, said he still doesn’t expect to lose his projects. But he said getting them “might be drug out over two years.”
“This is real politics,” he said.
At a time when earmarking money for local projects has grown dramatically on Capitol Hill, Shelby of Tuscaloosa stands out as a particularly unabashed pork-barrel spender, arguing that if federal money is being spent, he should fetch as much for Alabama as he can.
His fingerprints are everywhere in his Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee bill, one of the major spending measures that Congress was supposed to have taken care of before the new fiscal year started in October.
Shelby’s subcommittee passed its version of the measure in July; it totals some $55 billion, mostly for agencies such as the FBI, NASA and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
But sprinkled within are hundreds of millions of dollars for projects in Alabama. It includes $25 million to build a federal prison in Aliceville and $20 million for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disaster response center slated for Mobile.
There’s $750,000 for downtown redevelopment in Montgomery, $350,000 for preserving the USS Alabama battleship in Mobile, and $1 million for economic development in Calhoun County.
Still have influence
As a high-ranking appropriations committee member, Shelby still will have influence over the bill and other spending measures where he has inserted earmarks.
But Democrats — angry at having the unfinished mess dumped into their laps when they had hoped to start off the year with a fresh agenda — are signaling that they might not play nice.
“In my view ... if the Republicans are not willing to exercise their responsibility when they are in control, they lose all right to criticize in any way, shape or form the manner in which we clean up their mess,” said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, who is set to become chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee.
Officially, Democrats are saying they have not decided how to proceed with the bills. They have several options: They could start with the Republican versions and make minor adjustments. Or they could rewrite them entirely. Another possibility is passing a so-called “continuing resolution,” which would continue funding federal agencies at fiscal 2006 levels, without any earmarks.
“At this point, there’s been no decision,” said Tom Gavin, press secretary to incoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd of West Virginia. “What will happen with Sen. Shelby’s projects or any other member of Congress who has appropriations ... we don’t know.”
But, he added, “past tradition is when the majority flips and the appropriations bills aren’t done, then the percentage of how much the majority and minority are able to direct would change as well.”
60% to Democrats
Shelby predicted that Democrats would take a 60 percent share of earmark money and give Republicans 40 percent.
George Harris, a partner with the Alabama-based law firm Bradley, Arant, Rose & White who lobbies for federal spending, said Shelby could fare better than others because he has maintained good relationships with Democrats.
“I know on its face he’d rather be in the majority, but he’s been in the minority before and ... his personality and seniority is such that he gets along well with people across the aisle,” Harris said. “Our work is sort of in overtime right now to continue showing why these projects are important.”
Harris also said that with lawmakers across the country angling for local spending, he doesn’t expect earmarking to be significantly scaled back under Democratic rule.
“There will still be a lot of pressure from home to bring home the bacon, so to speak,” he said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!