ICYMI – Rooney to Trump: Let’s Make Infrastructure A+ Again
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In case you missed it, Congressman Tom Rooney (FL-17) recently sent a letter to President Donald Trump proposing a common-sense solution to accelerate federal investments in our country’s aging infrastructure. Our roads, bridges and dams are already suffering the effects of Congressional inaction, and Rooney’s plan will spur investment in critical public safety and water resources development projects across the country without increasing current spending by one cent. In addition to writing the president, Rooney penned a response rebutting claims made by critics of his idea, the full text of which you can read below:
By Congressman Tom Rooney
Last month, the National Review ran a piece characterizing earmarks as the root of all evil and dysfunction in Washington. This week, a group of Senators issued another warning of efforts underway “to revive the disdainful practice” of earmarking. Both the article and the letter offer a dishonest representation of the role of earmarks in the legislative process, greatly exaggerate their impact on the overall budget, and wrongly equate my efforts to restore earmarks in a limited fashion with a full-fledged repeal of the earmark ban. I want to set the record straight on a number of my critics’ claims.
- “The best evidence that Washington has not changed its big-spending ways is the continued push by some members of Congress to revive earmarks. Led by Representative Tom Rooney of Florida, they attempted to eliminate the ban on earmarks from House rules”
This is a complete and utter falsehood. I offered a minor amendment to the earmark moratorium to allow Congress to make needed investments in our country’s aging water infrastructure. My proposal would allow Congress to expedite funds for vetted water resources development projects of the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation – all without increasing our current level of spending by one cent.
In the newly-released 2017 Infrastructure Report Card – which regularly evaluates the condition and performance of America’s infrastructure – the American Society of Civil Engineers assigned our nation’s dams, inland waterways, ports and levees a collective D+. It is imperative to the success of our economy that we improve this vital infrastructure, which includes over one thousand Corps-managed ports and 25 thousand miles of Corps-maintained inland waterways that serve over 40 states. In our western states, Reclamation facilities deliver water to one out of every five western farmers who grow 60 percent of our nation’s vegetables.
- “The new incarnation, now renamed ‘line item appropriations,’ would once again allow representatives to insert specific spending for district projects without subjecting those proposals to full scrutiny. It is unfathomable to those of us who fought to end earmarks and witnessed our colleagues go to jail for corruption that pork barrel politics would return.”
What sensationalists fail to mention is that my proposal includes specific measures to prevent a return to pork-barrel spending by specifically limiting funding to only those Corps and Reclamation water projects that have been subjected to extensive Congressional scrutiny to ensure their scientific and economic merit. These political sensationalists also fail to acknowledge that these projects are routinely underfunded by the executive branch and do not offer a viable solution other than redirecting attention to the isolated incidents of corruption that took place over a decade ago. Those former politicians and lobbyists who broke the law have gone to jail, and rightfully so, and I expect that either our voters or the courts will send us packing if we make the same unethical mistakes of the past.
- “The idea that Congress needs to rescue spending from federal bureaucrats is misleading. For example, in the latest Surface Transportation Bill, traditionally a prime target for earmarks, 92 percent of funding is distributed to the states with limited strings through specific formulas, giving state and local governments the final say over funding decisions.”
Once again, my detractors employ the use of a red herring to avoid acknowledging the differences between my proposal and traditional earmarks. First of all, the Surface Transportation bill has nothing in common with the annual appropriations bill that funds Corps and Reclamation projects. Unlike highways and municipal water infrastructure, federal funds for Corps and Reclamation water infrastructure projects are not distributed directly to state and local governments and are not calculated using a specific formula. Rather, 85 percent of the Corps budget is controlled by executive branch employees, not Congress or the states, who exclusively decide the fate of funding for specific projects across the country.
In my own backyard, the Corps is 100 percent responsible for the construction and funding of the Herbert Hoover Dike which protects communities around Lake Okeechobee from flooding. Although Florida experienced record amounts of rain last year, the Corps did not respond appropriately, providing less than half of the amount required to prevent the aging structure from catastrophic failure.
Further, the executive branch has frequently chosen to ignore the suggestions of Congress and ignore authorized projects as they see fit. Although Congress authorized 34 port-related projects in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, the executive branch only funded two of those projects in 2016. Across the country, there are ports that require dredging and outdated flood control structures awaiting life-saving repairs that have state and local funding sources lined up, but are still waiting for the feds to pay their fair share.
- “With the serious fiscal problems facing our nation, processing thousands or even hundreds of pork requests will only distract and delay addressing pressing national needs and push spending decisions once again into the murky shadows.”
Underfunding critical infrastructure is not just a threat to public safety, but it costs taxpayers more money in the long-run. For example, from 2005 to 2016, water resource infrastructure failures required $31 billion in emergency funding from Congress, which nearly equaled the Corps’ regular budget for the same time period of $55 billion. Detractors like Senator Jeff Flake care more about publicity stunts that help them fundraise than they do about addressing our nation’s rising debt – which any economic analysis will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is not driven by earmarks.
I believe Congress can prove to the American people that we can be trusted to spend their tax dollars responsibly, ethically and in an transparent manner out in the bright sunshine. Six years into the earmark ban, and we’re still blaming the symptoms of Washington’s dysfunction on a fictitious boogeyman rather than a few bad actors who exploited our institutions for personal gain almost a decade ago. Many so-called conservatives claim that those of us advocating to restore Congress’ Article I authority are driven by power and greed, hiding our true intentions. Yes it may be politically risky to suggest that politicians and earmarks should be trusted in a room together again — but I think it’s riskier to continue the broken status quo for political expediency.