Congressional Republicans have spent hours and hours on the House floor this year decrying earmarks, but they have spent far more time back in their offices crafting letters to ask for them. Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina led an effort that held up appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for nearly a week to protest earmarking. “I'm very proud of the actions that my conservative friends are taking on this House floor to hold the Democrats accountable for their slush fund, their secret earmarks and their pork-barrel projects,” he boasted. “And I urge the body to move in the conservative direction.”
The following week it was revealed that McHenry had written the Appropriations Committee in April requesting funding for the “Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree Project.” It was one of more than 10,000 requests sent to that committee by members of his party.
The “Spin Machine” has also succeeded in obscuring the fact that significant progress has been made by the new congressional majority in cleaning up the process by which earmarks are awarded. These include new rules adopted at the beginning of this Congress that:
* Prohibited members of Congress from using earmarks to reward or punish other members for their votes on matters before the House.
* Require disclosure of the name and address of any intended recipient, the purpose of the earmark, and whether the member has a financial interest in the organization or entity receiving the earmark or would otherwise benefit personally from the inclusion of the earmark.
* Require that all matters before a conference committee (including earmarks) must be subject to full and open debate and that a final version of a conference report must be voted on by a meeting open to all members of the conference committee, and that no item (including earmarks) may be added to the legislation after the conference committee has adjourned.
In addition, the new Congress took the following actions:
* Completely excluded all earmarks from the nine fiscal year 2007 appropriation bills that were enacted in January 2007
* Agreed to cut the amount of funding provided for earmarks in each of the fiscal year 2008 appropriation bills by 50 percent below the levels contained in the appropriation bills passed by the last Congress.
* Established a policy requiring the publication by the Government Printing Office of all letters requesting earmarks included in an appropriation bill prior to floor consideration of the bill.
An important additional reform attempted by the new Congress could not be implemented in the current fiscal year but is likely to be implemented next year. That reform would restore greater scrutiny of requested earmarks before their inclusion in appropriation bills.
The proposed reform would end the recent practice of Appropriation Subcommittees moving toward a policy of granting members a certain amount of money within each bill that they can use for what ever projects they deem to be appropriate. In many instances there is little vetting or review of these proposed earmarks by anyone other than the member who requested them and his immediate staff.
The Appropriations Committee had to postpone their plan to return to a system in which proposed earmarks are subjected to a review by committee staff as well as by the agency personnel managing the earmarked funds. This reform was postponed because of time constraints created by a delay in the deadline for submitting earmark requests and the need to move the appropriation bills in a timely manner. There will, however, be additional review of the earmarks already included in the bills before they are finally agreed to in conference committee.
The Appropriations Committee plans a much more complete review of all requested earmarks next year before any are included in the 2009 appropriation bills.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
The true history of earmarks
From the Center for American Progress, a chunk of a much larger piece by Scott Lilly: