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Rep. Bill Owens
Rep. Bill Owens

Targeting defense spending, without earmarks

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This week, Congress is expected to vote on a military spending bill worth almost $700 billion.

Democrat Bill Owens sits on the House Armed Services Committee, and helped shape how some of that money will be spent, without the traditional member items known as earmarks, now banned by congressional action last year.

As WRVO's Ryan Morden reports from Washington, the defense spending bill could still bring money to special projects at Fort Drum and Griffiss Air Force Base.

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With a ban on ear marks, the money can’t be allocated directly to military posts, like Fort Drum or Griffis Air Force Base. One way to get around that is by creating general programs, that military leaders can then direct money to various reaches of the military.

Congressman Owens says those programs are right for upstate’s military bases, which could get some of that money,“Obviously we’re hopeful that it will,” he said. “But that will ultimately be a decision made by the Army or the Air Force - depending on where the funding is going.”

Mattie Corrao with Americans for Tax Reform — a group that aims to keep taxes low — says her organization would like to see projects in the defense budget examined more closely to eliminate waste fraud and abuse. ”You see a lot of opportunities for pork projects,” she said, “and different special interests kind of work their way into this bill because who has time to weed through a 700 billion dollar bill to find all these special interests.”

Corrao says her group disapproves of  the way lawmakers getting around the earmark ban. She said it’s time for a change,”Things need to work a little differently for members of Congress who feel like they still have special projects that they want to get funded. We see a lot of creative language being used, a lot of place holders being used, where members of congress are writing language doesn’t even necessarily fund an account, but allows taxpayer dollars to be allocated.”

Congressman Owens says you can still have budgetary items that serve a specific purpose, and at the same time keep spending down. He uses the household budget analogy, “You say my budget for the month is ‘X’ and I’m going to spend it in different ways. If I decide to cut down, I may cut across the board - I may go out to dinner less, I may do less dry cleaning, I may a little less expensive food — and if I do that, all those budgetary items are going to be reduced.”

The House is expected to vote on the final defense spending plan by the end of this week.

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