Friday, March 06, 2009

My earmarks in the 2009 Omnibus bill

Last week the House passed the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill for the federal government and forwarded it to the Senate, where it has stalled. The current operating budget is set to expire at midnight tonight, and without action to either pass the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill or pass yet another Continuing Resolution (CR), the U.S. Government will grind to a halt.
Because of the continuing deadlock in the Senate, a short-term continuing appropriations resolution was introduced this morning in the House. The measure is now H. J. Res. 38, and provides funding through Wednesday, March 11, for programs and agencies normally covered by the nine regular FY 2009 appropriations bills that have not been enacted.

The House passed the CR this afternoon. The measure is intended to provide time for the Senate to complete action on H.R. 1105, Omnibus Appropriations for FY 2009. After spending the weekend thinking on the bill, the Senate is expected to continue consideration of H.R. 1105 on Monday.

At the heart of the Senate deliberations are earmarks. As you know, since they were submitted to me, each of the earmarks requested from my office has been on our website. In fact the new site has a whole page devoted to the Appropriations process, and every project we received a request for can be found there >>>

I am as transparent and open as any Member of Congress on this issue, and as straightforward as I can be about my desire to bring home federal dollars. As you can see by the sheer scope of the requests I received, there are serious budget shortfalls in our community, and the need for federal money is greater than ever.

I will, and have, proudly defended my requests on the floor, have answered questions from my colleagues, and have welcomed a public vote on each of them. In fact, Senator John McCain questioned my request for funds for the Mutual Musicians Foundation. I welcomed the discussion and the Senate saw fit to retain the funding for one of our city’s oldest and most storied gems.

The Constitution gives the Congress the responsibility of appropriating and finding revenue to fund the priorities of the nation. The Constitution allows for a mechanism to discuss, enact and amend legislation, including the budget.

Apparently the same mechanism of committee hearings, debate, and approval followed by debate and votes in both chambers and signature by the President that prevails when Congress decides how many stealth fighters and armored vehicles to purchase is inadequate when it comes to deciding if a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City should be funded. I have no idea why, according to those who rail against earmarks, the Congress is capable of deciding funding priorities of 99 percent of the nation’s budget, but is somehow unable to discuss and decide the funding for that last 1 percent called earmarks.

This is a representative democracy. We elect people to represent our needs and concerns and advocate for those needs and concerns in Congress. As a body, the Congress examines request for funding and either votes to fund or decline to fund projects across our nation.

I have little sympathy for those who will fight against earmarks on the floor and gladly take them home to their districts. And I have little understanding of those who will pick earmarks apart on the floor of the chamber and then claim they have not been examined.

I say this. The people I am proud to represent have submitted their needs and desires in a public process. I have advocated for their priorities and asked that those priorities be funded with their tax dollars. I have debated anyone who has challenged the merits of these projects publicly. If I can convince a majority of the Members of the House and Senate that the priorities of my constituents are worth funding, then that, my friends, is democracy as defined by the Constitution.

I have been able to secure $35,428,000 in federal funds for specific projects for our community in the Omnibus Appropriations for FY 2009 as passed this week by the House of Representatives. Early next week I should know if they will remain in the Senate version and be passed into law.