Democratic earmark reforms lasted 100 days

When Democrats took control of Congress four months back, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., bragged it would take her party less than 100 hours to curb wasteful pork spending by requiring members to attach their names to their “earmarks,” exposing such waste to the harsh light of public scrutiny.

She failed to mention this “reform” would remain in effect for little more than 100 days.

At this point, “Democrats are sidestepping rules approved their first day in power in January to clearly identify ‘earmarks’ — lawmakers’ requests for specific projects and contracts for their states — in documents that accompany spending bills,” The Associated Press reported Monday.

“Rather than including specific pet projects, grants and contracts in legislation as it is being written, Democrats are following an order by the House Appropriations Committee chairman to keep the bills free of such earmarks until it is too late for critics to effectively challenge them,” The AP continued.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., now says those requests for billions of dollars to finance home-district dams, bridges and research contracts won’t be added to spending measures till the fall, when House and Senate negotiators assemble final bills to send to the president. But that means few lawmakers will get a chance to oppose specific projects.

Rep. Obey insists he’s taking the step “reluctantly” because his Appropriations Committee hasn’t had time to fully review the 36,000 earmark requests that have come flooding in — despite all the Democrats’ talk of “reform.”

But predictably, watchdog groups who “scrub” appropriations bills for questionable provisions are outraged.

“What that does is leave out the public’s input,” objects Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

“This is not more sunlight,” agrees Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “This is actually keeping earmarks secret until it’s too late to do anything about it.”

The House-Senate compromise bills cannot be amended when they come up for final action in September, at which point they’re subject to only one hour of debate, precluding challenges.

Meantime, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chuckled and accepted congratulatory handshakes on May 22 after his fellow Democrats banded together to permanently table (219-189) an official reprimand of the Pennsylvania Democrat for violating his party’s own four-month-old rule barring “revenge killing” of other members’ earmarks.

The whole point of the Democratic “reform” was to allow other members to criticize and oppose pork set-asides. But last month, when Rep. Murtha (the second-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, a man so powerful that he secured more than $200 million for his personal pet projects in 2006 alone, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense) sponsored an earmark to authorize $23 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center — a government agency that happens to be based in his district — Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., a former FBI agent, had the nerve to rise and propose the allocation be canceled.

Rep. Rogers was acting in accordance with the Bush administration’s desire to close the office, which duplicates services provided by the FBI and which has received repeated low marks from several federal review boards.

Rep. Rogers’ attempt to cut the $23 million failed. Despite that, on May 17 an outraged Rep. Murtha — who in his failed bid for majority leader described the ethics package in a private meeting with lawmakers as “total crap” — approached Rep. Rogers on the House floor.

“I hope you don’t have any earmarks in the defense appropriation bill because they are gone, and you will not get any earmarks now and forever,” the now-tabled resolution quotes Rep. Murtha as telling Rep. Rogers.

Rep. Murtha has never disputed Rep. Rogers’ account. He doesn’t have to. He knows he will never be disciplined for violating Ms. Pelosi’s reforms, because he had it right the first time. The “anti-earmark reforms” are just for show. Mere window dressing. Why, if we enjoyed the immunities of a colorful old Democratic congressman, we might even call them “total crap.”

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