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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

October 25, 2010 at 12:50 PM

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McCain attacks Murray on "corrupt" earmarks

Posted by Jim Brunner

Arizona Sen. John McCain held a conference call with reporters this morning to talk up one of Senate candidate Dino Rossi's signature campaign promises - a ban on earmarks.

During the 10-minute call, McCain repeatedly referred to earmarks as "corrupt" or "a gateway to corruption" and criticized Democratic Sen. Patty Murray as one of the biggest purveyors of the pork-barrel spending.

"The fact is the earmarking and pork barreling has got to stop. We have mortgaged our children's futures," McCain said.

Earmarks are directions to spend federal money on a specific project, be it a road, bridge or military boat. They're inserted into spending bills at the behest of individual members of Congress.

That puts members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, like Murray, in a position to direct millions of dollars to favored local projects. It's a process Murray has defended, arguing her seniority brings crucial federal spending to Washington state.

But McCain argues federal spending should be prioritized by need, instead of by who has the most political clout or lobbyists.

He touched on a Seattle Times report about Murray's former staffers turned lobbyists, who are now using their connections to the senator to deliver millions of dollars in Murray-sponsored earmarksto clients -- $20 million worth in a recent defense bill alone.

McCain differed from Rossi on one point. Rossi has said he wants to end earmarks until the federal budget is balanced. McCain says they should just go away forever.

"I think we should stop a corrupt practice," McCain said. "I respectfully disagree with Dino on that issue."

Another longtime anti-earmark crusader, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was also supposed to be on the call, but didn't show up.

Despite all the fury directed at them, earmarks only make up less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget.

That means any serious deficit-cutting plan has to include other big spending cuts -- such as reducing the costs of Medicare and Social Security or ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet Rossi has not talked in detail about those subjects. He also insists on preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans beyond this year, at a cost of $700 billion.

A reporter tried to ask McCain whether Republican deficit-reduction plans would include cuts in big entitlements like Medicare.

But no answer came, as McCain was apparently already off the line. Rossi spokeswoman Jennifer Morris thanked reporters and ended the call.

Within minutes of the conference call's end, the Murray campaign blasted out a news release criticizing Rossi for campaigning with "anti-Boeing McCain,"

McCain, the Murray campaign noted, fought to kill Boeing's original Air Force tanker contract.

That deal was canceled in 2004 after a conflict-of-interest scandal sent a Boeing executive and an Air Force procurement officer to prison.

After that, it looked like Boeing rival Airbus would win a revised version of the tanker deal, but Murray supported a successful Boeing protest which reopened the competition.

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