The ink wasn’t dry on Cochran’s confirmation that he would seek a seventh term as Mississippi’s senator before the Club for Growth issued a statement calling Cochran “a strong supporter of wasteful earmarks – something opposed by Republican leaders in both the Senate and the House.”
That little bit of verbal sleight of hand ignores the fact that Cochran is among the Republican leadership in Congress and that the vast majority of members in both houses in both parties utilized congressionally directed spending or “earmarks” for decades until it became politically unpopular.
And it ignores the fact that without congressionally directed spending, the discretion in federal spending is left to President Barack Obama and his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and it ignores that through phone calls, emails and other “soft” earmarks, congressional efforts to direct spending continues virtually unimpeded today.
But let’s be clear: Mississippi’s senior Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran has been a prolific master of using congressionally directed spending or “earmarks” to direct federal spending to the benefit of his Mississippi constituents.
From the 2008 Appropriations bills, Cochran made these scandalous earmarks among many others: $54 million for Mississippi River levees; $28 million for the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway; $25 million for the Delta Health Alliance; $10 million for the Pascagoula Harbor; $9.8 million for the DeSoto County Regional Wastewater System; $7.6 million for the National Guard; $5.4 million for the Jackson County Water Supply; $5 million for the Gulfport Harbor; $3.7 million for the Stennis Space Center; $3 million for the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Arthur C. Guyton Building’s renovation; $735,000 Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership; $686,000 for the Tallahatchie County Courthouse restoration; $472,000 for beaver control, $98,000 for Fulton’s wastewater treatment facility; and the list goes on.
Over the course of his career in Congress, Cochran has directed federal spending to Mississippi for projects like those and others that concentrated on public education, public health and safety, the national defense, research, and quality of life issues in communities large and small. Few areas have been influenced more by Cochran in Mississippi than transportation through federal highway spending.
So in truth, the Club of Growth may draw applause from their members of trying to pillory Cochran on congressionally directed spending, but they will be hard-pressed to find a long line of Mississippi legislators, mayors, county supervisors or small businessmen ready to tar and feather Cochran for fighting for a small share of the federal pie for Mississippians for worthwhile public projects.
Earmarks in 2010 represented less than one half of one percent of federal spending. Cochran has defended the balance that congressionally directed spending brings to the appropriations process and the dangers of ceding the field to the executive branch on this issue – and he’s right about that.
But if some of the outside groups that are already spending money in an effort to “primary” Thad Cochran want to make this race about earmarks, then he should gladly welcome that debate.
The list of cities, counties, communities and institutions in Mississippi that have benefited from Cochran’s wise use of discretionary spending and his willingness to not allow federal spending to congeal in the largest states with the largest congressional delegations is a record he can easily and forcefully defend.
The citizens of Fulton - who needed a wastewater treatment system overhaul - pay federal taxes. There is nothing sinister or “liberal” or unpatriotic about a veteran senator directing some of those federal dollars back there to help pay for that public works project.
But if earmarks are to be the battleground of Cochran’s reelection campaign, it will be a rather short battle.
(Daily Corinthian columnist Sid Salter is syndicated across the state. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)