With U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye expected to head the Senate Appropriations Committee under a president-elect with political, familial and historical interests in the islands, the state of Hawai'i looks ready to reap the funding rewards of Congress' next harvest.
The local mainstream press has lauded the change. "Isles hope Inouye brings home bacon," the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on Saturday.
The promotion follows growing concerns over excess earmarks and pork-barrel spending, which were dragged through the mud for the entirety of the recent presidential campaign. Mr. Inouye, one of the outspoken voices to support a need for funding special projects, faces a difficult task of keeping Hawai'i projects at the head of the table while facing the criticisms of government watchdog groups.
Citizens Against Government Waste recently found Mr. Inouye to be among Washington's top five pork-barrel spenders. The group found the following legislators had appropriated over $100 million in the 2009 fiscal year: Mr. Inouye; Mr. Byrd; Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss; and Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla.
The Appropriations Committee is known as the most powerful committee in the Senate because of its jurisdiction over government spending legislation.
Last week, Mr. Inouye received the nod to head the committee from outgoing chair Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"I hope that I am sufficiently prepared to succeed my mentor [Mr. Byrd] who has assisted and guided me over the past 30 years, and, in particular, during the years he has led this important panel with distinction," said Mr. Inouye, who has served on the Appropriations Committee for nearly four decades.
"There has been much discussion about so-called 'pork-barrel spending,' with the implication that any congressional add-on—or earmark—to the fiscal year budget is a waste of taxpayers' money," Inouye said.
What will it mean for Hawai'i with Mr. Inouye now steering senate spending?
History points to military and defense spending in the islands. A lot of it.
A Senate report shows Mr. Inouye responsible for requesting over $668 million in earmark spending for military construction in Hawai'i and $178 million in projects relating to defense and homeland security.
Earlier this year, Mr. Inouye responded to criticisms of earmark spending.
"There has been much discussion about so-called 'pork-barrel spending,' with the implication that any congressional add-on—or earmark—to the fiscal year budget is a waste of taxpayers' money," he said in June.
"I reflected on that position, which I believe to be misguided, when the Senate Appropriations Committee today approved two bills that provide nearly $153 million for Hawaii-related initiatives in Fiscal Year 2008," Inouye said. "Of that total, one of the bills appropriates $134.8 million for health, education, and social service programs for Hawai'i, and nearly $55.6 million of that amount will directly benefit Native Hawaiians."
This summer, the committee approved $33 million for Native Hawaiian curriculum development, teacher training, and public school renovation as well as $14 million for Papa Ola Lokahi/Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems.
With spending on Native Hawaiian services only a fraction in comparison to the earmarks directed toward the military, Mr. Inouye will have to find a balance in the kinds of projects chosen for the islands.
Washington's number one pork barreler, Mr. Stevens, will also likely be on his way out of the Senate after having been convicted of a felony for making false statements relating to accepting gifts from contractors. The Alaska senator's ousting would put Mr. Inouye at the top of the earmark spending list.
Should the Appropriations Committee officially approve Mr. Inouye's role as chair on Nov. 18, the opportunity will open doors for Hawai'i. With the veteran senator having the final say on the entire nation's special projects, Americans will be watching to see that all the bridges end up going to somewhere.