Whether you’re for earmarks, against them, or — god forbid — somewhere in-between, we can all agree on one thing: Jim Oberstar’s defeat in the 8th District will mean less federal money for Minnesota.
That’s not just because 8th District victor Chip Cravaack is less-than inclined to pursue pork dollars; it’s because Oberstar was really good at it. There is one key indicator of earmark prowess: how much a representative brings in on their own — solo earmarks obtained without the help of co-sponsors.
Oberstar brought home $22 million in earmark money on his own during fiscal years 2008-2010. Here’s how he ranked among his House colleagues in the Minnesota delegation for fiscal years 2008-2010:
Most of that money came out of transportation bills — no surprise given his chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee — but he was also adept at pulling money from areas where he had less pull. Here’s a breakdown of the earmark money he secured by bill for FY 2008-2010
Also significant is the earmark money a representative brings in with the help of co-sponsors, and Oberstar was a leader in this area as well. Most notably, he helped wrangle $53.9 million for the NorthStar Commuter Rail. All told he collaborated to win $265 million in earmark money for Minnesota and the region from fiscal year 2008-2010.
The argument against earmarks was pretty well summarized by candidate Cravaack in his answer to a Minnesota Newspaper Association survey in October:
“I do not support congressional earmarks. They have become the poster child of Washington’s culture of wasteful spending and have been linked to corruption and scandal. Funding should be rewarded based on the merit of a project, not seniority or party. This is the only way to make sure that the government is meeting their obligations fairly. Earmark reform such as this will prevent projects such as the infamous ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’”
Over at the Minnesota Brown blog, Iron Range historian Jeff Manuel provides a more nuanced and region-specific take on the pork tradition Oberstar honored for his district and his state:
“On a national level, earmarks have been the most significant vehicle for the federal government to put money into mining regions like the Iron Range that are challenged by globalization and deindustrialization.
“This isn’t just an Iron Range story. In Pennsylvania’s declining anthracite coal mining region … federal earmarks were the most important source of federal money for economic development. Democratic and Republican congressmen from the anthracite region ‘were masters at channeling federal dollars — for whatever purposes — into their districts.’
“So let’s remember that all that pork — love it or hate it — was America’s version of an industrial policy.”