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GREAT PLAINS EXAMINER

www.GreatPlainsExaminer.com

June 2012

Berg supports bill that would violate -an on earmarks


By Julie Sobel For the GreatPlains Examiner
When he was elected to Congress, Rep. Rick Berg supporred a ban on "earmarks"- a practice in which members of Congress can create new government spending, outside of normal procedures, to benefit a specific project, person or organization. But last month, Berg signed his name to a letter making a request that violates the ban. Berg's office says it's a job-creating bill. Others see a flip-flop. The facts are a little more complicated. "With regard to taking a pledge of fiscal ~e sponsibility, supporring an earmarks ban, and rJ:te transparency that's supposed to go with it, I'm the least shocked and surprised person in the state of Norrh Dakota at what Rick is doing," said Duane Sand, a Republican running against Berg in the 2012 Senate race. Sand accused Berg of supporring "all kinds of earmark spending" but not publicizing it, pointing to Sen. Kent Conrad's website and press releases announcing federal money coming into Norrh Dakota with the names of all three members of the delegation on them- press releases that do not appear on Berg's website. Opposition to earmarks has corp.e from two vocal coriununities: small government conservatives who see earmarks as unnecessary additional spending, and government 'Watchdog groups that see earmarks as parr of a cycle of corruption in which lobbyists and special interests make campaign contributions to members of Congress who later while the Club is cerrainly no &nof Berg's and has spoken out against him in the past for voting against spending cuts, Keller declined to comment on Berg's signing the letter. "I think that in the end, the proof will be in the pudding," said Taxpayers for Common Sense Vice President Steve Ellis. "A lot of these seem to be very much targeted to an individual company." "It seems pretty clear to me that this is becoming an earmark bill," Ellis said. A GOP leadership aide said the process to advance the MTB legislation would be different than the way earmarks are usually tacked onto a bill. "If we were to go forward with the dlegislation, it would be a completely open and transparent ; process," the aide said.

' W: ,, + A ' Rep. Rick Berg is among 65 freshmen lawmakers urging leaders in the U.S. House to consider legislation that includes provisions banned under rules that were intended to halt congressional earmark spending.

~ members of Congress from being able to direct u::: tariffbreaks.

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But other earmark opponents want to prevent

direct taxpayer money to benefit the same lobbyists and special interests.

Others, however, note that earmarks represent only a small fraction of overall government spending. Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, for example, told But on April20, Berg joined 65 other freshmen CNN in 2010 that it's "a complete charade" to focus on eliminating earmarks, as opposed to bigger in the House in signing a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric ticket government spending. Cantor asking for fast action on the Miscellaneous "You can get rid of every.single earinark," DorTariff Bill (MTB). The MTB is a collection of gan said at the time, "it's not going to change one requests for reduced or suspended tariflS on cerrain cent in federal spending." foreign imporrs. The lawmakers wrote that the MTB bill has been stalled due to concerns that the 'limited tariff benefits' are prohibited under House rules that ban earmarks.

Nonetheless, Berg supporred the GOP ban as a candidate and as a congressman. Accorrung to a November 2010 arricle in the Bismarck Tribune, Berg said he supporrs the ban because he wants to "change business as usual in Washingron.".

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.- rvyo opponents of earmarksare promoting legislation that would let companies submit their duty-suspension proposals directly to the International Trade Commission rather than going thro~ members of Congress. 'We have a win-win, biparrisan solution that

will result in more tariff suspensions, streamlines


the process, ends the pay-to-play scheme, gives small businesses better access and still retains congressional authority," DeMint told McClatchy Newspapers this month. Taxpayers for Common Sense supporrs the McCaskill-DeMint legislation. "It's quite clear that you could skip the middle man and apply directly to the ITC," said Ellis. Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprof-. it group that claims more than 1 million supporrers nationwide, hasn't weighed in on the McCaskillDeMint proposal. But the group's president, Tom Schatz, noted that it would "remove the issue of whether or not it's an earmark, since it wouldn't be requested by a member." When asked about Berg signing the letter in light ofhis supporr for the earmark ban, Berg spokesperson Chris Pack drew a distiri.ction between an earmark like the in&rrious "bridge to nowhere," and the MTB, which he called "more macro-level," rather than benefirring one parricular project or gro11p of people. Pack declined to specifY any Norrh Dakota businesses that would be helped by the MTB passing. Pack said Berg didn't have time to be interviewed for this story. "He's still fully supporrive of the earmark ban," Pack said. Norrh Dakota has been a major beneficiary of earmarks. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in fiscal year 2010 Norrh Dakota received $151 million in earmarks- or $233.60 per person, the most per person of any state other than Hawaii. Norrh Dakota's earmarks included flood protection for Fargo, a new terminal for Grand Forks International Airpoi:t, cool season legume research at Norrh Dakota State University, and work on the Lewis and Clark Legacy Trail. It also included funding for a variety of joint ventures between Norrh Dakota businesses and universities to create products for the military, including new wireless technologies and naval coatings.

"As fiscal conservatives, ~e appreciate those concerns," the letter stated. "However, we believe it is an error to view duty suspension bills in that manner. Unlike spending earmarks, as they are sometimes erroneously characterized, a duty suspension included in the MTB is available to any U.S. manufacturer- including small businesses - imporring the covered product because it is not available domestically."
The letter prompted an arricle in Politico, a W ashingron-based politics publication, that starred: "Hypocrisy alert: House Republican freshmen are begging their leaders to bring back a cerrain type of earmark so that they can help companies back home in an election year." There is no doubt that the tariffbreaks are included in the earmark ban. According to GOP conference rules: "It is the policy of the House Republican Conference that no Member shall request a congressional earmark, limited tax benefit, or limited tariff benefit, as such terms have been described in the Rules of the House." The argument is that eliminating specific raiiffi creates tax benefits for some companies- providing cash for them at the expense of the federal treasury- much the same way an earmark does.

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Others view them simply as tax cuts. And mark opponents have mixed responses to the lerret and to the tariflS issue in general. The Club for Growth, a fiscally consetvative organization that supporrs an earmark ban, hasn't condemned the letter. 'We don't have an official position on it," Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said. And

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-julie Sobel is reporter for the National journal Hotline and a freelance writerfor the Great Plains Examiner.