Four retiring senators score more than $1.7B in earmarks in giant spending bill

Four senators leaving Congress at the end of the year secured more than $1.7 billion combined in funding for pet projects and initiatives through earmarks in the $1.7 trillion spending bill Congress was rushing to pass this week.

Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, secured the most of any departing lawmaker. The Alabama Republican will bring home more than $666 million across nearly 20 earmarks if the bill passes.

Much of that money will go to boosting Alabama’s infrastructure and educational institutions.

The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, for instance, is slated to receive $50 million for a permanent endowment to support the ‘recruitment and retention of exceptional faculty in science and engineering.’ The school’s science and engineering departments are located in an area of the campus named for Shelby and his wife.

The University of Alabama will also receive $10 million to create ‘an institute on public service and leadership.’ Last year, Shelby announced that the university would receive his official papers when he retired from the Senate, sparking speculation that the leadership institute could be named after him.

‘I don’t know if that’s the impetus for the earmark,’ said a GOP senator. ‘But he’s made a big mark on Alabama during his more than 30 years in the Senate.’

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe is similarly bringing home a large amount of money in earmarks before leaving Congress in January. Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, secured nearly $500 million in the bill.

Much of the money will go to boosting Oklahoma’s military installations, including $80 million for an advanced training complex for the U.S. Army. Inhofe also secured $40 million for a new air traffic control tower at Tulsa International Airport.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt secured more than $348 million for projects across his state. Blunt, a top ally of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, secured millions for local water and infrastructure projects through Missouri.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is slated to depart Congress with more than $212 million in earmarks for his home state. That sum includes $2.35 million for the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, a science and nature museum named for the senator.

Overall, the more than 4,000-page spending bill includes over 7,200 earmarks totaling more than $15 billion.

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