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Shelby now top GOP appropriator

| Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 7:46 p.m.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., leave the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, as the clock ticks down toward the 'fiscal cliff.' AP

WASHINGTON — Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, a defender of earmarks, is the new top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he'll have an even greater say in how federal dollars are spent, causing some taxpayer watchdogs to grumble.

The slot opened when Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi became the senior GOP member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Senate Republicans gave him a seat on the coveted committee when he switched parties in 1994, and Shelby has showered the state with federal money ever since — mostly for defense and aerospace projects, and medical, science and engineering facilities at colleges.

As vice chairman, he'll hold sway over all corners of the federal budget except entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. Congress' ban on earmarks persists, so members can no longer singlehandedly direct millions of federal dollars to specific projects in their states.

One taxpayer watchdog group said Congress should focus on the federal debt, spending cuts and the debt ceiling, not reinstating earmarks.

“It's a terrible time to bring back earmarks,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We can't afford ... to be just funding good or nice-to-have projects. They need to be the best and most important,” Ellis said.

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