Partisan sniping over transportation earmarks

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The Democratic chairman of the House Transportation Committee is questioning whether Republicans are sticking to their earmark moratorium when it comes to a water bill intended to upgrade ports, locks and waterways. But House Republicans say the chairman’s questions are misleading and motivated by partisan politics.

Before the March announcement by House Republicans that they would halt earmark requests this year, 120 Republicans requested money for pet projects as part of a water bill handled by Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar’s committee. Few have rescinded their requests, Oberstar contends, though Republicans say he’s far off the mark.

“In the past two months, I have received a few letters from Republican Members requesting that their project submissions be withdrawn from consideration for inclusion in the bill,” Oberstar wrote in a letter sent individually to 116 House Republicans who requested earmarks and have not repudiated them. “At the same time, several Republican Members have told me that they do not intend to comply with the House Republican Conference earmark moratorium and will not withdraw their project requests.”

Jim Coon, the Republican chief of staff on the transportation committee, told the Center that Oberstar’s letter is untrue. Over 100 of the 120 Republicans who requested projects in the water bill have rescinded them in communications with Rep. John Mica, the senior Republican on the committee.

"This is a transparent attempt by Chairman Oberstar to play politics on this issue," said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Rep. John Boehner, the House minority leader. "He and his staff are well aware that Ranking Member Mica is collecting all the withdrawal letters and will release them at the appropriate time."

Oberstar has given Republicans until May 25 to cancel their requests in a bill that aims to modernize waterways and fund the restoration of wetlands.

"You can’t have it both ways," said Oberstar in a news release. "You’re either for funding important projects in your district or you’re not. It’s interesting to note that the moratorium the Republican leadership adopted only lasts until after this fall’s election."

This week, Oberstar said he plans to write a similar letter to Republicans who requested earmarks in a surface transportation bill funding road and bridge projects.

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