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More Trouble in the Land of Murtha

Fresh off last week’s news that companies run by the nephew of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the prominent House defense appropriator, have received millions of dollars in no-bid defense contracts, The Washington Post follow with the revelation that, contrary to prior claims, nephew Robert Murtha milked the position of his powerful uncle for every dollar he could.

[Robert Murtha] has maintained that his uncle played no role in his defense-related work, much of it secured without competition. Newly obtained documents, however, show Robert Murtha mentioning his influential family connection as leverage in his business dealings and holding unusual power with the military. The documents add to mounting questions about Rep. Murtha, whose use of federal earmarks to help favored defense companies and whose relationship with a former lobbying firm are under scrutiny by federal investigators.

As if that weren’t enough, The Post also found former employees of nephew Robert’s firms who claim they were paid for services with little value at all.

Some former business associates and employees told The Washington Post that they thought the role played by Robert Murtha’s companies was unnecessary.

Jeff Curtis, an engineer who worked for Robert Murtha’s company in 2001, contacted The Post to say that he and some co-workers did virtually no work on a project to make kits to test for biological agents. Curtis said he remains “furious” that taxpayer dollars were wasted.

“I was always thinking, ‘Why is the government paying this company?’ ” said Curtis, 29, who is now doing engineering work in North Carolina. “If it’s fair to have this kind of no-bid work, I’ll start a company and do it for half as much. Because this company didn’t do anything.”

Ignoring the kinship component of this story for a minute, the Murtha saga is something to keep in mind as the debate over President Obama’s budget proposal — which includes roughly $17 billion in cuts to current programs — begins in full. That’s because federal money delivered to states, even if it goes to fund the most inanely worthless program of them all, translates into something vital to politicians careers: JOBS.

Indeed, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are screaming from the rafters about specific cuts in the Obama proposal that would cut jobs among their constituents. The message from Capitol Hill is clear: Deficit reduction is a commendable, even necessary, goal. Just don’t find the savings in my district.

It’s gonna be a long debate …

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