And You Thought Earmarks Were Dead…


So you believe the “fiscal cliff” is the only thing Congressional cost-cutters are battling about? Wrong! At this very moment, a joint Senate/House Conference Committee is fighting over the S.S. Badger, a 60-year-old coal-fired ferry that operates between Manatowoc, Wis., and Ludeston, Mich.

It seems that buried in a Coast Guard authorization bill for the vessel, which dumps some 500 tons of raw coal ash annually into Lake Michigan, is special wording (call it an earmark if you will) that will allow the ship to operate as is, into perpetuity, as a national historic landmark. The two sponsors of the language happen to be local Congressman, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.).

Congressman Huizenga told the New York Times the curious wording is not an earmark “because there is no transfer of anything of value.” But according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), “If it walks and talks like an earmark, it is an earmark.”

Another earmark specialist, Steve Ellis, told the Times he believes the bill was drafted by lawmakers to benefit interests in their districts, and that it is being done as a favor for special interests and would be better left in the hands of professionals whose job is to make such decisions.

The 410-foot Badger is the only coal-fired steamship remaining in the United States. Sen. Durbin has previously requested the owner, Robert Manglitz, convert the ship to a different fuel such as diesel without success. Now, Durbin told the Times, “This owner of this vessel has had a more than reasonable time to show respect for that lake you live next to and refused. There comes a time when we have to apply the law.”

P.S. The House of Representatives has passed legislation that “outlawed earmarks.”