House Kills Zombie Earmark (Again)

National Taxpayers Union (NTU) applauds House passage of the Huffman (D-CA) – McClintock (R-CA) amendment to H.R. 5293, the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations bill. This amendment struck language in the underlying bill that would have tied the hands of the Air Force by requiring the service to use only U.S.-produced energy to heat defense installations across the Atlantic in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

“It’s disconcerting to taxpayers that this wasteful earmark persisted for so many years without question. It’s even more troubling that after successfully striking it down in 2015, the provision was reinserted – with only a modest tweak that in no way improved the policy – and had to be once again disputed. Regardless of whether a program is defense or education-related, protectionist policies should be under scrutiny. Congress shouldn’t be in the business of restricting the fair and open competitions necessary to ensure the best value for taxpayer investment,” Nan Swift, Federal Affairs Manager, explained.

“This 'zombie earmark' is emblematic of why it can be so difficult to enact good reforms at the federal level. At the same time, it serves as a good example of what can be accomplished when legislators work across the aisle on commonsense, bipartisan solutions. NTU is grateful to Representatives Huffman and McClintock [a NTU Taxpayer Friend Award-winner] for taking the lead once again defeat this nonsensical instance of crony capitalism.”

First enacted in 1961 as a means to prop up the Pennsylvania coal industry, past iterations of the earmark even prevented upgrades of the boilers on several military bases, which could have taken advantage of lower-cost energy sources. Modifying the language to expand the requirement to any domestic energy source still limits the Pentagon’s options and necessitates shipping an energy-input across the Atlantic, despite the availability of potentially competitive fuel sources from Germany or Poland. Any savings that could be achieved by finding a more local source for coal or upgrading the heating system to accommodate other fuel are worth investigating.

Especially during a period of record debt and budget restraint, it’s important that Pentagon and other federal agencies have the freedom and incentive to explore the most economical option that meets their mission goals without favoritism toward specific industries or companies.

NTU was pleased this year’s vote of 268-153 garnered broad bipartisan support, growing by 16 new backers. In addition to NTU, this amendment was supported by the Taxpayers for Common Sense who bestowed their “Golden Fleece” award to the “Coal to Kaiserslautern” program in 2015, as well as Campaign for Liberty, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Heritage Action for America, Less Government, Niskanen Center, R Street Institute, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. A coalition letter is available here.

National Taxpayers Union, “The Voice of America’s Taxpayers,” is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working for lower taxes, smaller government, and economic freedom at all levels. More information on NTU’s work is available at