The House has considered a new Coast Guard appropriation (HR 5681), but they did so under a suspension of the rules. This parliamentary manuever allows Representatives to undermine the new rule just created that forces them to identify their earmarks in the Congressional Record. Sure enough, sources on the Hill tells me that some shenanigans occurred with the Coast Guard Authorization Act, and section 405 confirms it. The addition to HR 5681 authorizes a multimillion-dollar research program at the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute, a joint project of the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The bill requires Congress to fund a study for the following purposes:
(K) identify ways to improve the integration of the Great Lakes marine transportation system into the national transportation system;
(L) examine the potential of expanded operations on the Great Lakes marine transportation system;
(M) identify ways to include intelligent transportation applications into the Great Lakes marine transportation system;
(N) analyze the effects and impacts of aging infrastructure and port corrosion on the Great Lakes marine transportation system;
(O) establish and maintain a model Great Lakes marine transportation system database; and
(P) identify market opportunities for, and impediments to, the use of United States-flag vessels in trade with Canada on the Great Lakes
All of this research will cost American taxpayers $11.5 million dollars over five years (2007-11). Sources on the Hill tell me that the secret earmarker — the man who saw his opportunity for secrecy when the rules got suspended — was none other than Minnesota’s James Oberstar. The Democrat has represented MN-08 for 32 years, and his district includes Duluth and the shore of Lake Superior, where the GLMRI operates. Most recently, Oberstar interacted with the Coast Guard by blocking their use of the Great Lakes for firing exercises. Apparently he does not have a problem using the Coast Guard for pork-barrel exercises.
UPDATE: Please take a look at the GLMRI site. It has no links to any publications, nor to a mission statement, no contacts, and while the Research link does take readers to a fresh page, it has nothing to list. Despite the lack of action at GLMRI — apparently they haven’t had a board meeting in almost a year — Oberstar wants to give them $11.5 million for a federal study of Great Lakes commerce and the rust problem on its shipping.
UPDATE II AND BUMP: Andy at Club For Growth, who first alerted me to this story, says he will have video this morning of the House debate, featuring Oberstar and Jeff Flake, who is angry about the end-run around the new earmark rule. Keep an eye on his site for that interesting confrontation.
Also, it’s well worth mentioning that former Senator Rod Grams has come out of retirement to run against James Oberstar in MN-08. Fans of open government might want to lend some support.