The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Murtha Intel Earmark Dispute

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Representative John ‘Jack’ Murtha (D-Pa.) has long been known inside the beltway for using threats, power plays, and backroom deals to control spending decisions.  Now the American public has been treated to a view of the congressman’s strong-arm tactics; this time for throwing a temper tantrum and threatening his colleagues over a challenge to a $23 million pet project.

In a confrontation on the House floor captured without sound by C-SPAN, Rep. Murtha became infuriated by Rep. Mike Rogers’ (R-Mich.) motion to challenge his earmark for the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) in Johnstown, Pa. in the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008.  Aside from being pork, the earmark’s certification letter had been submitted several weeks late after a March deadline and only the day before mark up.

According to Rogers, Rep. Murtha, who is not on the Intelligence Committee but does chair the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, warned, “I hope you don’t have any earmarks in the defense appropriations bills because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever.” 

Rep. Rogers responded, “This is not the way we do things here and is that supposed to make me afraid of you?” 

To which Rep. Murtha arrogantly replied, “That’s the way I do it!”  The congressman has not disputed the exchange.

Rep. Murtha also assailed Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) for voting with Rep. Rogers against the NDIC during the Intelligence Committee markup of the bill.  Rep. Murtha threatened a Boeing project in Rep. Tiahrt’s district.

The Murtha outburst exemplifies how earmarks corrupt the legislative process.  The NDIC, which is funded through the Drug Enforcement Administration, was cited last year by the House Government Reform Committee as “an expensive and duplicative use of scarce federal drug enforcement resources.”  CAGW’s 2007 Prime Cuts and the President’s budget both recommended that the NDIC should be eliminated.  But it will probably be funded, not based on merit, but out of fear of Rep. Murtha’s power as an appropriations cardinal. 

Following the encounter, Rep. Rogers released a statement that said in part, “This is exactly why Americans are disgusted with out of control federal spending.  In order to restore the faith of the American people in Congress, we must do better.  We can’t allow members to be threatened and intimidated when they stand up for hard-working taxpayers’ money.” 

Rep. Rogers submitted a privileged resolution charging that Rep. Murtha violated a House rule which forbids members from blocking earmarks based on how a colleague votes.  The resolution sought a formal reprimand from the House and Democrats were put in the tough position of defending a senior member who openly flouted their own rules.  In the end, the culture of corruption, which Democrats had pledged to eradicate, won as the resolution was killed on a 219-189 vote on May 22.

-- Alexa Moutevelis

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