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McKeon calls for change in earmark policies

Congressman says he supports ban, but wants to make sure it allows worthy goals

Posted: November 27, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: November 27, 2011 1:30 a.m.
 

A federal ban on earmarks is needed to ensure responsible spending, Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon says, but the current congressional rules limiting spending for specific projects need to be tailored so worthy goals such as stopping the Cemex mine can be realized.

“There are certain instances where districts rely on federal assistance for needed projects that provide for the common good and commerce,” Rep. McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, said in a statement.

Such a project is his proposed land swap that would block a large-scale sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon, he said.

Cemex, the company that owns permits for the mine, has agreed not to exercise those permits in exchange for a land swap involving property near Victorville. McKeon has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation to approve that swap in the past. But this year did not propose the legislation because of a House of Representatives ban on earmarks.

 “The earmark ban put in place in this Congress was correct in spirit,” he said in the statement issued last week.

“However, it is my belief that we need to ensure that a continued ban on earmarks is correctly tailored so that legitimate in-district projects can be properly considered.”

Earmarks are spending plans for a specific project to benefit constituents in a particular district. Santa Clarita Valley residents and the city of Santa Clarita have opposed the planned Cemex mine for decades, citing concerns about pollution, traffic and reduced quality of life.

In an interview with The Signal’s Editorial Board earlier this month, McKeon, a former mayor of Santa Clarita, said congressional committee chairmen have a great deal of latitude in determining what constitutes an earmark.
McKeon is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

But the land-swap deal involving the Cemex permits would have to be approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is chaired by Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington state.

Labeled an earmark
In a copy of a letter dated Nov. 4 and obtained by The Signal, Hastings warns McKeon for at least the second time that if he introduces the text of his proposed Cemex bill to Congress, “it would be an earmark and subject to the moratorium.”
Hastings, using a softened tone in his most recent letter compared to previous letters on the topic, says he respects McKeon’s commitment to the bill and the ongoing land issue.

“In making this determination as chairman (that the land swap would be an earmark), please know that I do so with respect for you and your efforts on this matter,” Hastings wrote in his letter sent earlier this month.

McKeon has introduced legislation in Congress to ban the Cemex mine every year since at least 2004. It has failed every year except this year, when McKeon refused to introduce it due to the earmarks ban.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., his introduced a bill to approve the land swap this year, but it has not yet made it to committee. Cemex officials have said they will move ahead with the mine if legislative progress isn’t made by the end of this year.

Dangerous situation
President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last year, said he will veto any legislation containing earmarks.

As well, shortly after winning a majority in the house a year ago, House Republicans also vowed to fight earmarks.
McKeon’s Cemex bill became one of their first examples in the push to stop earmarks legislation.
McKeon’s statement last week defended federal earmarks bans in general.

“The dangerous reality of our country’s fiscal situation could not be clearer,” McKeon said. “We are running over a trillion-dollar deficit and have accumulated (a) $15 trillion national debt.

“Wasteful spending and pork projects have no place in our legislative process and, unfortunately, the practice of securing earmarks has been abused.”

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