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
3 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. REFLECT FOR A MOMENT

    Just because others did it ...does not wash any more...Leaders must take ownership for their mistakes and come clean.

    January 6, 2012 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    I'd make a joke about Santorum being the GOP's/Teatrolls' newest flavor of the month, but I'm pretty sure putting the words "santorum" and "flavor" in the same sentence threatens the space-time continuum. Oops...I just did it twice.

    Nom nom nom nom nom delish...eh GOPers/Teatrolls?

    January 6, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  3. babs

    Senator Rick Tornscrotum was a typical big-spender. Guess he found religion when the political winds shifted.

    January 6, 2012 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  4. Gary Goodwin

    Santorum wasn't the only one that took earmarks but he probably was the biggest thief of those that did.

    January 6, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  5. Thomas

    Great ,
    every clown car needs two steering wheels .

    January 6, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  6. InsertRandomNameHere

    This is such a biased report that it shouldnt have been published as it is currently writen. All that needed to be said was "This is what an Earmark is, this is how he used it, this is the impact." But instead they felt the need to add who is argueing with who and a bunch of useless oppinions.

    January 6, 2012 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  7. DC2003

    Earmarks are actually budget neutral!
    It's no different than a Corporation that has X amount of dollars for capital improvements in a given year. They look at all the request from the various depts and have to decide what is going to get done this year and what isn't.

    Accounts Receivable needs new computers, but Sales needs a new phone system ...!

    January 6, 2012 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  8. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    Oh come on... ALL OF THEM DID THIS. It was SOP, a way of life. The stinking government is going to take and spend our money one way or another so it's every man for himself in trying to get that money back to their states. I just wish they'd stop it now because WE ARE BROKE! No more taod tunnel highway crossovers or sponsoring Harry Reid's Cowboy Poetry festival.

    January 6, 2012 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  9. John in Colorado

    Not only should government at all levels not deficit spend, they should have a rainy-day fund to cushion the blow for when revenues are down since they seem to rise and fall based upon the economic cycles. That way, they would not have to layoff employees and jump through all manor of hoops, during down turns of the cycle.

    January 6, 2012 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  10. Joe

    Ron Paul. The only candidate with any consistency or integrity. All these guys just pay lip service to conservative ideas. A Romney presidency would see even more runaway deficits.

    January 6, 2012 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  11. unsub

    only Obama!

    January 6, 2012 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. Kathleen Farrell

    I don't get what's wrong with earmarks. We pay taxes, we elect Congress members, they bring projects to their districts... As long as they're quality, functional projects for the greater good, earmarks are a good thing.

    January 6, 2012 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  13. Rudy NYC

    Earmarks are not the problem. Earmarks serve a highly useful purpose, so they should not be entirely eliminated. Earmarks are the symptom. Politicians looking to for pet projects for their districts are the problem.

    January 6, 2012 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  14. cigarman

    Sceniors, BEWARE OF THIS IDIOT. He obviously is still trying to say that Medicare and Social Security are entitlements, everytime I hear one of these CLOWNS say that I Think of the statement , that if you repeat a LIE many times ,people will eventually believe it. We as working people PAID for these items and are still paying for Medicare. Santorum wants to do away with Social Security and Medicare. Santorum is a low life person. Anyone who takes a deceased baby home for show and tell for his other children really needs to be analyzed by a psychiatrist. This man is evil, BEWARE SENIORS.

    January 6, 2012 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  15. jon

    Here comes the GOP negative press...once you begin to do well in the primary the leftstream media has to begin tearing you down. That's the Democarat way

    January 6, 2012 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  16. Todd C

    Who cares about earmarks? It's an infinitesimally small piece of the pie, and we all know Congressmen get reelected on earmarks. Even Ron Paul sticks his earmarks in a bill and then votes against them "out of principle".

    Santorum is so much worse than his earmarks that talking about earmarks is a distraction from talking about what a crazy theocrat he is.

    January 6, 2012 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  17. lewtwo

    Republican Pork ... this is news ???

    January 6, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  18. CA

    Santorum is not that innocent. He is been on the "K" street ticket.

    January 6, 2012 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  19. Don

    McCain is an idiot who should accept full resonsibility for the entire U.S. debt, the social security coming insolvancy, and every other debacle that exists today. He was there and he is the problem. Any criticism from his mouth should be considered a resounding endorsement. Can you imagine this shallow, two faced loser as our President? He makes Obama look good.

    January 6, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  20. Jose

    Seems like Santorum is just more of the same. I don't understand the support.

    January 6, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  21. tom clements

    I am anti Romney, anti Paul, anti Perry...this one is big, I know all the congressman fought for earmarks but this one hurts....

    January 6, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  22. A Texan

    Funny -- Anyone to the left of extreme right is now a liberal, not a moderate !!!!

    January 6, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  23. GROVER NORQUIST IS AN ENEMY OF THE STATE

    "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?
    ------------------------------------------------
    Wrong old man! I swear you must be coming down with dementia, amnesia or Alzheimer's. Have you forgotten about all the UNFUNDED WARS and the UNFUNDED TAX BREAKS and the UNFUNDED RX PLAN???? And let me not forget to mention a BAILOUT OF THE MAJOR BANKS. I don't take advice from a man who says "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" when the entire financial sector is collapsing around us.

    OBAMA/BIDEN 2012
    ELIZABETH WARREN 2012 & BEYOND

    January 6, 2012 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  24. Jimbo

    The fact that people actually vote for the Santorum juice is mind boggling.

    January 6, 2012 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  25. chill

    The whole earmarks debate has been a tempest in a teapot. Earmarks generally specifically allocate funding that is already approved within the budget for particular departments. Rather than have the bureaucracy allocate the funds, Congressmen and Senators put specific earmarks in the budget or other bills to direct funds to a specific local project. Some of them were boondoggles and some were worthy projects. Same as the funding allocated by the executive branch. The level of spending and earmarks are two different things. Granted, earmarks were often approved to intice Congressmen to vote for some overall bill- related or unrelated. Most did it to some degreee and that's the way they did their job of representing their state or district.

    January 6, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
1 2