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tv   Washington Journal Paul Kane  CSPAN  January 31, 2022 10:04am-10:30am EST

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>> presidential recordings, find them at c-span now or wherever you get your podcasts. >> get c-span on the go, watch the day's biggest political events live or on-demand any time, anywhere on our new mobile video app, c-span now. access top highlights, listen to c-span radio app and discover new podcast for free postop download c-span now for free. paul kane is not only the senior congressional reporter for the washington post, he served as a columnist for that publication. good morning. guest: good morning. host: i want to point viewers to a story, taking a look at
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something you describe at least in the headline, called the e word and what that means for capitol hill as they debate back and forth on funding the government. can you start there? guest: that he word. they used to call -- the e word. they used to call it earmarks. members of congress would insert it into the annual funding bills. they would sometimes be for something as small as a local interchange, a highway stop area. sometimes as little as $100,000, $75,000. sometimes more, into the millions. these were projects that were the bread and butter of what members would be able to say they had delivered for their constituents back home. the problem was in the late 90's and early 00's, it became an
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explosion of earmarks and became a politicized thing where congressional leadership would look at those members of congress and steer the money to those in races and it was about those who raised the most money. slowly but surely, the whole k street lobbying community caught on and realized one way they could get more clients was to hire people, former staffers for specific members who were particularly good at per -- at procuring earmarks. they would work to get clients who had connections to that lawmaker, in order to get more earmarks and pretty soon you had this earmark explosion, and many of them were still very good and helping communities get through key issues that they needed
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funding for, and sometimes the bureaucracy just takes so long that the community needed instant help and a member of congress could do that. but then there were just some really bad earmarks that got into these bills in some cases through down white -- downright corruption where the lobbyists would be raising money from these clients would be giving gifts to the members themselves. more than a dozen lobbyists and federal agency representatives and a few lawmakers went to prison about 15 or 16 years ago, and that led to the banning of earmarks. he became a very distasteful thing, mostly led by republicans and john boehner and tea party republicans when they took over the majority in 2011. but also democrats like barack obama really did not like the practice and thought it was corrupt. that is why it ended 10 years ago.
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what people realized over the ensuing decade was it really sort of devalued what a member of congress was doing here. you reach a point where your average rank and file member of the house of representatives really struggles to explain what they were doing in washington. they had nothing to deliver for their constituents. it also created this environment in which the members who used to only think the government funding bills, the basic duty of congress, to fund the government and keep it open and give the federal agencies the budgets they needed. that became a secondary or worse task for people. they didn't really care about it as much. they didn't have any skin in that game, and that is -- you have a bipartisan special committee in the house from from 19 -- from 2019 to 2020 that concluded the reason we experienced so many government
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shutdowns lately, 35 days across 2018 and 2019. they said part of the reason we are having all of these shutdowns is because members themselves didn't have the real input into the budget. they didn't see any good of it coming out. now the democratic led majorities in the house and senate are trying to bring the practice back. host: with that as a set up, if you want to ask our guest questions about this process of earmarks and sending money back to constituents, you can call us. (202)-748-8000 for democrats. republicans, (202)-748-8001. independents, (202)-748-8002. text us at (202)-748-8003. paul kane, you said they are coming back. do we know them as earmarks as we've known them before, or are there different things now? guest: these are very specific
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terms. we called the e-word in our headlines because members of congress don't like to say earmarks anymore. they think it has a very bad negative connotation. the senate, in their bill, the senate is calling them congressionally directed spending. the house of representatives, calls it community project funding requests. that is because they want to get away from this idea that these things are similar to what they are using -- what they used to be. there are a bunch of new rules that apply to these earmarks, this current version. you must disclose them, you must write letters and post them on your website, explaining what your requests are. you cannot request money for private companies. these have to be nonprofits,
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things like water and sewer authorities back in your district and your state. a university, a state university trying to do research on stuff. those are the types of projects. your local and state departments of transportation, if you wanted to send money directly to them. that is what you are allowed to do. in the house, you are limited to just 10 requests per lawmaker, which is a real democratization of the issue because it used to be that the speaker of the house, the house majority leader and minority leader and the higher up leadership, the more you get in earmarks and the house just said every lawmaker can ask for 10 and that's it. they also set a limit of the overall portion of these federal agency budgets, which will come between $1.4 trillion and $1.5
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trillion this year, if congress can reach a deal. earmarks will be 10% or less -- 1%, excuse me. you are only looking at $10 billion to $15 billion in earmarks sitting out there in the universe of these congressional bills, that they are trying to come together and pass. host: is there more interest now from legislators to get an overall government funding bill passed now that they have the ability to make these requests? guest: that is the sales pitch. it definitely skewed 10 to 12 years ago, and the direction that republicans not this was government waste and it was corruption. overall back then, republicans were just opposed to this. what has come about now is 108 republicans, a little bit more than half of the entire congruent -- conference,
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supporting a vote, a secret ballot vote. 108 went out and filed requests and have earmarks sitting in these bills, for it -- for a total of more than 700 different projects. every single democrat in the house filed requests and they have more than 2000 projects in the wings. what is being said to these members is you may not have cared about these government funding bills in the past and thought they didn't do a whole lot because it was just empowering federal agencies, but now you have skin in the game. you have to pass these bills, or else those earmarks go up in smoke. the only way you can get to deliver for your constituents in those earmark requests you have submitted is by voting to approve a big government funding bill, and that is the sales
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pitch being made. they've got until february 18, the current deadline. they could punt on that end by a little extra time and pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating at last year's budget. that might be what happens. but there does seem to be momentum here, among both sides, to get a deal, and we are going to see whether or not the idea of earmarks as helping greece the wheel, to get this sort of government funding going -- helping grease the wheel, to get this sort of government funding going. host: first call for paul kane this morning, kenny in north carolina, democrats line. go ahead with your question or comment. caller: my comment was years ago, that was how rural communities got any federal funding.
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if you wanted to build a library or anything to help the working class community, you couldn't get that money unless it was through an earmark. that is why we've got so many rural communities struggling. this might be a little bit off subject, but there were two things i used to say on a blog. 100% of the money, politicians ought to raise 100% of the money out of their own district. that keeps money from outside influencing that election. if you can't vote, you can't give, meaning no corporations, no unions. this unlimited secret money called citizens united has destroyed the fabric of america.
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host: we will leave you there. to kenny's first point as far as rural communities and the impact they have with the earmarks and the lack thereof over these years. guest: historically, kenny makes a really good point. if you lived in a rural area, it was harder to get money. there is definitely a sense of you need to be connected to a powerful figure. there are several figures, especially in rural areas, who knew this system and worked it in currently well. in the senate, robert seabird, longest serving senator -- robert c byrd, longest serving senator in west virginia. there is a robert byrd everything. highways, parks, you name it.
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he delivered for his state in that regard. ted stevens of alaska. he basically poured money into the state of alaska, and there were people who accuse them of spending too much money, but there is no doubt that they poured money into the rural portions of their state. up in pennsylvania, you had two members who for decades were basically side-by-side. one was bud schuster, who ran the house transportation committee. the other was john murtha, a democrat from johnstown. they were good buddies, and they worked and help each other. murtha ran the defense subcommittee and they basically poured money into their districts.
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over time, murtha in particular, both of them ended up under federal investigations because -- and it goes to something else kenny was talking about -- they were raising so much money from corporate pack interests -- corporate pac interests who were not in their district, just looking to get earmarks and money, and there became this sort of triangle of interest, of hiring former staff, finding clients from around the country, paying the former staff and lobbyists who would then raise money, and it did create this scene of influence that did not sit well with a lot of people. that is part of the reason why these ended up going away, but they are going to try and make this system cleaner and
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narrower, and get people to understand what they can do with this money. host: democrats, (202)-748-8000. republicans, (202)-748-8001. independents, (202)-748-8002. paul kane, a viewer says our earmarks, what they used to call pork. guest: to every man, pork is a prickly sizzle to stake. john boehner viewed earmarks as sort of a gateway drug, that if you were out there getting earmarks for your district and you are willing to spend $500,000 to help create a community library in some area that just didn't have that, just make up an example, he always felt that meant you were then willing to go spend $500 million
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on another project or $500 billion on another project. that was the standard operating playbook of anti-spending deficit hawks. there is some validity to that. in the grander scheme of what we have just been through in the last five to six years in terms of government spending, when there have not been any earmarks. i think the total now it's up to $6 trillion in pandemic relief money, that poured into all manner of life in america and all the different agencies, to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic. there were no earmarks in that. there was a nearly $2 trillion tax cut that republicans
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approved at the end of 2017, to reduce revenues. that happened without earmarks. we are looking at a different era right now, in which government spending has exploded by every possible measure, and the federal debt has exploded by every possible measure without earmarks. i think the proponents are trying to say let's try to see if people can care more about the way government is funded. you've got republicans out there. steve scalise, the number two house republican, in line to be house majority republicans win back the majority. he is asking for earmarks. he has some in these bills right now. $1.5 million for a hospital mobile streaming unit outside of new orleans. john boone, his counterpart, who
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would be senate majority whip if republicans win back the majority. he is seeking $30 million for a big highway interchange in sioux falls, south dakota. they believe these are valid projects and that they know better than the bureaucratic agency representatives who would take years and years to wind through the system before they approve that spending. they believe they know this better than those agents, and they are pushing for this money. host: let's go to mark in fort lauderdale, democrats line. caller: good morning, and thank you to c-span for your continued good works. i like this subject a lot. maybe on a strange or different than ordinary voter, i never thought of earmarks as being inherently bad. it is just some money that was already allocated to other budgetary means -- needs that
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got directed to certain projects and it was the grease for the wheels of government. you support this project in my district and i will vote for your bill. once they stopped earmarks, that is when government got jammed up. the problem with government money is there always going to be sharks circling, trying to get something for themselves and it happens over and over again, so we can only have hope that this new earmarks process may be avoids that -- maybe avoids that. i do have some issues with how the guest talked about republicans being eager to get rid of earmarks. the reason republicans were eager to get rid of earmarks was to get rid of the scandals.
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they were the ones with a senator in alaska having money funneled to him like crazy. there was the vietnam pilot from california who got in a lot of trouble. that is why republicans pushed to get rid of them back 15 years ago because they want to get that scandal behind them. host: mr. kaine, -- mr. kane, go ahead. guest: back to the day when earmarks scandals release sort it to run before 2004 and 2008, it definitely had -- there were more republicans that were under investigation, facing criminal charges. the pilot he is referring to is duke cunningham, who was a top gun pilot back in his younger days in the navy, who went on to become a low profile really influential lawmaker on the house armed services committee.
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he basically set up something that was literally a bribe menu on a cocktail napkin. it was dollars and cents of how much money you give to me and i spit out this much in earmarks. there were democrats who were caught up in this. there was a member from new orleans, bill jefferson, who was on the house ways and means committee, influential trade issues, and there was a different form of earmarks that he was using in trade bills, to try and help kleptocratic in africa -- coptic rat -- kleptocrats in africa. republicans had more corruption scandals and they probably needed a cleaner slate the democrats but one of the key issues -- cleaner slate than
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democrats but one of the key issues is you could set up earmarks directly into private businesses and that really greeted the potential for corruption. i wrote a story for the washington post with a colleague in 2009, about a bunch of people who were trying to start up a new vaio tech company out of boston -- biotech company out of boston, and they had some angel investors who ceded the company with money -- seeded the company with money and one of the first things they did was hire a lobbyist in washington who was asked really well-connected to democrats on the appropriations committee and there were notes and memos about all they had to do was raise $40,000 and they will get $1 million. sure enough, that is exactly what they got. there was never -- there were never charges filed in this case. it may well have been a case
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that in some ways, the first type of corruption, corruption that was perfectly legal and the fbi looked at it and cannot make a charge against it because it was legal. that system was not good. i don't know how else to say it. you can choose your own words, some of which we cannot say on air. i like to think of this as a family operation. it needed reforming. that much was clear. that is what they are trying to do now, and it is happening in a very bipartisan way. pat lahey and the senate appropriations committee is working hand-in-hand with republicans and democrats. staff reports so far, you are looking at $10 billion to $12 billion in requests that will probably be honored, if they can since this deal. -- century -- can cinch this
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deal. there are not a lot of complaints. there will be a lot of antispending groups that are scouring these deals. all of the requests are public. there has not been any bridge to nowhere, one of the scandals from 16 years ago that came out with an earmark for alaska. there have not been any bad examples so far. not making any promises here, but so far, the appropriators think the process is working. host: let's go to tom on the independent line from pittsburgh . caller: your guest is exactly right about martha -- murtha. we are driving on some safe highways, very safe highways as a result of those earmarks. i fly out of murtha airport in johnstown which is way too big,
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but i tell you what. the government worked. if you want to get rid of that, the only solution would be what? term limits. host: tom from pennsylvania, recounting an experience. guest: i'll admit, i had to drive up to schuster's old district a few years back. his son went on to share the same committee. he was facing an incredibly tough republican primary, and he said exactly what i expected him to say. this transportation committee is not my father's transportation committee. he was trying to do highway bills that did not have earmarks, and he was facing really tough primaries >> you can watch the rest on the c-span our video app or website, now


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