Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) made news this week when he turned 180 degrees on his opposition to a ban on budget earmarks. The issue is at the top of the list for the new wave of Republicans coming into Congress.
But yesterday, two Republican senators spoke up unabashedly in support of the earmark process, citing prominent defense programs in doing so. The occasion was a press conference announcing new leadership for the Senate National Guard Caucus. Joining Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) were Republicans Kit Bond (MO) and new caucus chair Lindsey Graham.
A reporter asked about the earmark ban. Bond said a ban "doesn't make sense," and the following exchange then took place:
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Okay. Earmarks have been abused. There's plenty of examples of times when the money was wasted. I can give you one example of where an earmark, I think, was wisely invoked. Remember the up-armored humvee debate and the MRAP debate? I went to Iraq and Afghanistan like these gentlemen do. Kit's had a son over there in the Marines.
And I'm for the moratorium up to the point that it puts my nation at risk. And I've said that in a public statement today. I would support the moratorium, but if there was a national security issue that the moratorium affected in an adverse way, I will do what's necessary.
The Marines were really down on the up-armored humvee. I had a Marine captain tell me in 2004, '05 -- I can't remember the year -- that he would get court-martialed before he sent his Marines out beyond the wire in an up-armored humvee because they were coffins.
The Marines had access to MRAPs, and they have to take them in South Carolina, so I knew about them. And as a result, the up-armored humvee program was taking precedent over the MRAP program. And it was going to be terminated. Senator Levin and myself in the Defense authorization bill put $7 million into the budget to keep that line open. And when Secretary Gates came about a month later, the rest is history.
And what they've done on the equipment side, they're not giving themselves enough credit. I've been in the Guard and Reserves for over 20 years now. I've never seen a time where the Guard has the access to the equipment, modern capabilities, that they do today. And the only reason that happened is because of these two guys making sure the Guard didn't get left out.
So I'm willing to do the moratorium, but if I find a national security issue that's not being taken care of by the Pentagon, and we come together and say, "You know what, our men and women are going to suffer," I'm going to do what's necessary for the men and women.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you.
SEN. BOND: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, if you could ever reach him, is a great opponent of earmarks because we earmarked the LITENING pod for the F-16, which took out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the infamous leader of Ansar al-Islam.
SEN. LEAHY: And he never -- he never thanked us. (Laughter.)
SEN. BOND: He's up there with the -- looking for the 72 virgins, I guess. Okay. Thanks.
SEN. LEAHY: I'll leave that one alone. (Laughter.)