Santorum did take earmarks, but he wasn't the only one
Then-Sen. Rick Santorum works with an aide on Feb. 11, 1999 in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
January 6th, 2012
02:36 PM ET
2 years ago

Santorum did take earmarks, but he wasn't the only one

Washington (CNN) - When Rick Santorum gives his prescription for pulling the country out of financial crisis, he emphatically focuses on runaway government spending.

"We have to do it in the areas where the deficit has been created, that is spending," Santorum told an audience in New Hampshire on Thursday.

- Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker

But the former senator's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination say he was part of the problem.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas told CNN this week that Santorum is a "liberal." Why? "He spends too much money."

What Santorum's opponents are really trying to do is question his fiscally conservative credentials by hitting him for taking earmarks.

Earmarks are federal funds members of Congress direct to specific projects back home. They were common practice for years, but then they became a dirty word – a symbol of politicians using their power to keep themselves in Congress.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry produced an online ad accusing Santorum of demanding "more than $1 billion in earmarks in 16 years in Congress."

Whether that is accurate is hard to know, because Santorum was defeated in his Senate re-election bid in 2006, before lawmakers were required to disclose their earmarks.

But Steve Ellis with the non-partisan Taxpayers For Common Sense says it's "pretty clear he got at least a billion dollars, and probably much more."

In 2005 alone, Pennsylvania received $483 million in earmarks for 872 projects. And during his years in Congress, Santorum issued press release after press release bragging about bringing home the bacon - everything from job training centers to career development programs to money for medical research.

Santorum also voted for the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, sponsored by that state's Sen. Ted Stevens, the most senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee. Santorum had the chance to vote to cut that earmark and spend the money on disaster relief, but didn't do it.

"To go against the "Bridge to Nowhere" was to go against one of the most powerful senators," said Ellis, and would have likely put the money Santorum was trying to get for Pennsylvania in jeopardy.

In his ad against Santorum, Perry runs a clip of Santorum saying "I have a lot of earmarks, in fact I'm very proud of all the earmarks I've put in bills."

And despite the attacks, Santorum still defends his pork-barrel projects.

"When you go to Congress, you make sure that when taxes go from your state to Washington, D.C., you fight to make sure you get your fair share back," Santorum told CNN's "John King, USA" earlier this week.

To be sure, Santorum was hardly alone. Until recent years, even for Republicans, spending federal funds on folks back home was a path to re-election. Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was a proud recipient of earmarks.

But the politics of pork took a turn with the insurgence of the tea party. Last year, even the most ardent earmark advocates in both parties agreed to a self-imposed ban.

Santorum now says he thinks that was the right move. But that hasn't stopped people like John McCain from pounding Santorum on the campaign trail this week.

"Earmark spending is the gateway to corruption, and that was practiced when Republicans were in the majority," McCain said at a rally for Mitt Romney in South Carolina on Thursday.

"Senator Santorum and I have a strong disagreement, a strong disagreement that he believed that earmarks and pork-barrel projects were good for America," he said.

McCain was an early opponent of earmarks and often clashed with Santorum over the issue during their time together in the Senate.

The reality is that even in their heyday, earmarks were a tiny part of the budget - less than 1%.

Santorum likes to point that out as he defends himself, and remind voters that he is proposing deep spending cuts in key areas, like entitlements. And he used that argument to fire back at McCain.

"The big problem in the federal government with spending is not earmarks, it is entitlement programs," he said at a town hall meeting in Dublin, New Hampshire. "There is where the big, unfunded liabilities are. That's what's grown the deficit other than [President Barack] Obama's increasing spending which, as we know, we haven't had earmarks in the last couple years and he keeps spending more. So, if earmarks were the problem, spending should be going way down right now, shouldn't it?

"Candidly this is John McCain trying to put his imprimatur on the Republican conservative movement."

Then he challenged McCain to keep up his line of attack.

"The biggest cost in Medicaid are seniors in nursing homes. So, that's why you didn't see John McCain running out there with big, entitlement reform changes when he was in the United States Senate so I think that's hiding the ball.

"So go ahead and attack me on earmarks."


Filed under: 2012 • Congress • Rick Santorum • Senate
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Jimmy

    Santorum surges from behind, ewwwww!

    January 6, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  2. Zebulon Pi

    I love how these guys all point at the smallest spending thing in the room, while ignoring the biggest... MILITARY SPENDING. A billion dollars in earmarks won't buy you ONE Stealth Bomber, and the military orders those things like candy. Obama tries to offer a "leaner" military, and Republicans go bananas over it like we just surrendered to China.

    Seriously, guys, are you against spending, or not?

    January 6, 2012 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  3. The Elephant In The Room

    Your governmental culture is what you do when noone is watching.

    When he thought no one was paying attention, Rick Santorum grabbed and spent as much taxpayer money as he could.

    How can we trust that person to balance the budget? We CAN`T.

    January 6, 2012 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    "Earmark spending is the gateway to corruption, and that was practiced when Republicans were in the majority," McCain said at a rally for Mitt Romney in South Carolina on Thursday.
    ----------------–
    Removing all earmarks would be a disaster. Doing so would remove the federal government's ability to specify how money should be spent. Earmarks are what stopped Gov. Christie from cancelling a rail project, and keeping the federal funds to pay for his tax cut to the wealthy. The earmark forced him to pay back the federal government.

    January 6, 2012 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  5. a in austin

    How many times do people need to be reminded of how we got where we are – 2 wars not paid for and the Bush tax cuts. Yes, the party of no wants everybody to forget that and say Obama got us where we are today. Think again!

    January 6, 2012 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  6. Santorum did take earmarks, but he wasn't the only one...

    Translation: He is just part of the bigger Washington Problem. How does he have any credibility to fix the financial problem that he is part of? He definitely is not the guy to fix the mess in Washington.

    January 6, 2012 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  7. Bob Elliott

    Most Congressional (Senate & House) politicians fail to understand that their past 40+ years of chronic overspending have created an estimated $15.1 trillion National Debt, and massive annual Federal Budget deficits; and our country could still be thrown into bankruptcy. What hypocrites for talking about reducing spending and the deficit, while they are all taking ear marks; and speaking double talk and using accounting tricks like "baseline budgeting." Is there any honest politician running for office?

    January 6, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
1 2