Dorgan, Conrad rank high for earmark requests in federal spending bill

Byron Dorgan

FARGO – North Dakota’s Democratic U.S. senators rank among the top quarter of those who requested the most earmark dollars in the now-stalled omnibus spending bill, according to an analysis by a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Sen. Kent Conrad today defended the earmark requests – which included funding for “worthy projects,” like $9.5 million toward permanent flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead.

But, that funding – and the other earmarks requested by Conrad and retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan – now seem dead-on-arrival, just like the bill itself.

Kent Conrad

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the $1.1 trillion bill last night, after learning he didn’t have the GOP support he thought he had (and needed) to pass the bill.

Since this Congress hasn’t approved a budget, lawmakers have passed omnibus spending bills to keep the federal government operating in the interim.

This latest spending bill drew a lot of scrutiny since it included more than $8 billion worth of earmarks – an already controversial practice, but especially, it seems, for a government trying to rein in spending.

Taxpayers for Common Sense analyzed all 6,700 earmark requests included in the spending bill and published a report today detailing which senator asked for how much for his or her home state.

Dorgan came in at No. 11 on the list for requesting 80 separate earmarks worth $166.4 million. (The New York Times and Greenwire noted Dorgan’s prominence on the earmark list today, reporting it under the headline: “Departing Dorgan Brings Earmark Deluge to N.D.“)

Conrad took the No. 25 spot – reportedly requesting funding for 68 earmark projects worth $139.4 million.

The figures include earmarks requested by them as individuals and requests with other members. (Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran topped the list by asking for 281 earmarks worth $561.1 million.)

North Dakota’s congressional delegation has a history of bringing back notable amounts of earmark dollars to the state, and they’ve also routinely defended them as funding necessary to complete vital projects – like permanent flood protection.

In a statement this afternoon, Conrad said the lack of an omnibus bill before the congressional session ends means “a big loss for North Dakota,” and he blamed Senate Republicans who backed off from their original support.

“What people need to understand is that eliminating earmarks won’t save the nation one dime,” Conrad said. “The money is still going to be spent. But now it will be Obama Administration officials – rather than North Dakotans – deciding how to spend the money. The question is, will those resources still go to these worthy projects in North Dakota?”

According to Conrad’s office, the bill contained funding requests – aka earmarks – for the following water projects in North Dakota:

  • $9.5 million – Fargo flood control
  • $3 million – Grafton flood control
  • $2 million – Northwest Area Water Supply
  • $7 million- South Central Regional Water District
  • $7 million – Southwest Pipeline
  • $3.1 million – Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Irrigation Project
  • $1.6 million – Mandan Raw Water Intake
  • $1.7 million – Grafton Water Treatment Plant Improvements
  • $1.4 million – North Prairie Rural Water District
  • $1.6 million – Park River Water Distribution System Improvements
  • $1.5 million – Grand Forks Water Treatment Plant
  • $1.8 million- McKenzie County Regional Water Service
  • $1.5 million – Greater Ramsey Water District expansion

The bill also included military projects affecting the state’s facilities:

  • $18,800,000 – Control Tower at Minot Air Force Base
  • $16,500,000 – Central Deployment Facility at Grand Forks Air Force Base
  • $11,200,000 – Readiness Center at Camp Grafton

“These are critical projects for economic development in North Dakota and for enhancing our national security,” Conrad said. “They should not be sacrificed in the effort to eliminate wasteful projects in other parts of the country.”