It’s no contest. U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby — the undisputed king of Washington’s higher-ed earmarks — saw to that a long time ago.
In fact, we might as well commend the Tuscaloosa Republican. This year, he and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation have really outdone themselves by earmarking nearly $60 million in federal money for the University of Alabama.
The $58.8 million that Shelby has gift-wrapped for UA makes this state’s namesake university the top collegiate recipient of Washington pork in this year’s federal budget, according to the online magazine Inside Higher Ed.
In the same year that the Crimson Tide won the football national championship, the University of Alabama also sits atop the top 25 list of top higher-ed beneficiaries of congressional earmarks. How’s that for a sign of power for Alabama’s senior senator?
Of course, Shelby and his GOP compatriots in Washington decry federal spending — Remember the stimulus? — yet see no problem in spending federal dollars on projects in their home districts. This is but the latest example of that well-worn story.
The higher-ed/pork top 25 is proof of which congressmen are most able to walk that earmark tightrope. As Inside Higher Ed magazine explained, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, is a large reason why universities from his home state did so well with this year’s federal budget.
How well? Consider that four Mississippi schools — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Medical Center — are in the top 25. In fact, MSU is No. 2 with $47.9 million in earmarks.
That means, for those familiar with the geography of Southeastern Conference schools, that more than $100 million in federal money has been earmarked for two universities whose campuses are only about 90 miles apart on U.S. 82.
Auburn University supporters shouldn’t fret. AU’s also in the top 25 with $18 million in earmarks.
It’s no surprise that university presidents are unrepentant fans of this flavor of D.C. pork. At UA, President Robert Witt could hardly contain his appreciation for Shelby’s assistance. “My reaction to being No. 1 in earmarks is about the same as my reaction to being No. 1 in football: I hope we do it again,” Witt told the Tuscaloosa News.
Bet he does. Much of that money, the News explained, will go for a planned fourth building in the school’s engineering and science complex.
This is all part of how the game is played today in Washington, particularly by those in the GOP. Congressmen play two non-reconcilable roles, emphatically criticizing the use of federal money while securing federal money for their districts.
It’s no wonder why the thought of stopping earmarks has been so heated in Washington.
Oh, and consider this: Higher Ed Online says U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers helped Jacksonville State University secure a $250,000 earmark this year for the “purchase of equipment.”
Seems the representative from Saks has a long way to go to catch up to Shelby’s earmark prowess.