Anti-Earmark Senator Slips Earmark Into Senate Bill, After Supporting Earmark Ban

I’m pretty sure that this is one of the faster examples of hypocrisy we’ve seen in quite some time:

Senate Republicans’ ban on earmarks – money included in a bill by a lawmaker to benefit a home-state project or interest – was short-lived.

Only three days after GOP senators and senators-elect renounced earmarks, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, got himself a whopping $200 million to settle an Arizona Indian tribe’s water rights claim against the government.

Kyl slipped the measure into a larger bill sought by President Barack Obama and passed by the Senate on Friday to settle claims by black farmers and American Indians against the federal government. Kyl’s office insists the measure is not an earmark, and the House didn’t deem it one when it considered a version earlier this year.

But it meets the know-it-when-you-see-it test, critics say. Under Senate rules, an earmark is a spending item inserted “primarily at the request of a senator” that goes “to an entity, or (is) targeted to a specific state.”

Earmarking allows lawmakers to steer federal spending to pet projects in their states and districts. Earmarks take many forms, including road projects, improvements to home district military bases, sewer projects, economic development projects. A key trait is that they are projects that haven’t been sought by the administration in power.

The money for the 15,000-member White Mountain Apache Tribe was one of four tribal water rights claims totaling almost $570 million that was added to the $5 billion-plus bill. Black farmers will get about $1.2 billion to settle claims that the Agriculture Department’s local offices discriminated against them in awarding loans and other aid. Another $3.4 billion goes to American Indians who say the Interior Department swindled them out of oil, gas and other royalties.

Just Monday, Kyl released this statement about the Senate GOP’s push for a Senate wide ban on earmarks:

Earlier this year, the Senate considered a measure that would have put a moratorium on earmarks for 2010 and 2011. I voted for the moratorium, but 68 senators opposed it.

The Senate will likely have another chance to vote on it. Senator McCain has joined Senator Coburn and two Democrats, Senators McCaskill and Mark Udall, who are pushing for a vote on a Senate-wide moratorium.

Republicans have already spoken. On November 16, the Senate Republican Conference approved a two-year moratorium on earmarks. Republicans in the House have also adopted a similar ban on earmarks.

Of course, an earmark ban is not a single solution to our country’s fiscal problems, and not all earmarks are wasteful. But, if legislators can’t muster the will to eliminate a small portion of spending, how will they be able to make the bigger, more difficult decisions?

Especially when they say one thing in public, and another on the Senate floor.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Herb says:

    The hardcore partisans will make excuses (if they even notice) but the principled (ahem) “liberals” like yourself make note of it. Good show.

  2. sookie says:

    but, but, but… It’s not really an earmark…