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5/24/2007
DEMS BELLY UP TO THE EARMARK BAR
CATEGORY: Ethics, Government

“The rhetoric has changed but not the behavior, and the behavior has gotten worse in the sense that while they are pretending to reform things, they are still groveling in the trough.”
(Winslow T. Wheeler, CDI)

I swear that most Congresscritters missed their calling. Serving in Congress is swell I’m sure. But if this were a different world, we might see many of those ladies and gents in nightclubs plying their craft as magicians.

It’s the old sleight of hand trick. Replace one bunch of greedy, grasping, politicians from one party with a sneaky, conniving, yet equally greedy and grasping set from another party. Hard to tell the difference in the end. The result is the same; unaccountability and a lack of discipline in spending our tax dollars.

This is because despite running on a platform that included solemn promises to halve the number of earmarks included in appropriations bills, as well as reforming the way they were ordered to insure transparency and accountability, the Democrats were apparently struck a severe blow to the head, having suffered a massive memory loss as a result and are carrying on pretty much as before.

That “as before” refers to the way that Republicans purloined tens of billions of dollars from the Federal government via the earmark gravy train - something the Democrats had a gay old time bashing them over the head with in the lead up to the election last November. And rightly so. The practice of slipping a Congressman’s pet project anonymously as an addition to appropriations bills at the last moment - behind closed doors in conference or even after the bill was passed - with little or no chance for debate (not to mention little scrutiny about who exactly was going to benefit) was an out of control outrage, an affront to the principles of good government, and a significant contributing factor to the deficit.

So, of course, the Democrats just had to give it a try:

When the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed one of its first spending bills, funding the Energy Department for the rest of 2007, it proudly boasted that the legislation contained no money earmarked for lawmakers’ pet projects and stressed that any prior congressional requests for such spending “shall have no legal effect.”

Within days, however, lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) began directly contacting the Energy Department. They sought to secure money for their favorite causes outside of the congressional appropriations process — a practice that lobbyists and appropriations insiders call “phonemarking.”…

Upon taking control of Congress after November’s midterm elections, Democrats vowed to try to halve the number of earmarks, and to require lawmakers to disclose their requests and to certify that the money they are requesting will not benefit them.

But the new majority is already skirting its own reforms.

It isn’t just the spectacle of rank hypocrisy that the Democrats are making of themselves. It is the supreme arrogance of power that sneeringly tells the rest of us to mind our own business and leave the lawmakers alone when they are planning to rob us blind:

Perhaps the biggest retreat from that pledge came this week, when House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) told fellow lawmakers that he intends to keep requests for earmarks out of pending spending bills, at least for now. Obey said the committee will deal with them at the end of the appropriations process in the closed-door meetings between House and Senate negotiators known as conference committees.

Democrats had complained bitterly in recent years that Republicans routinely slipped multimillion-dollar pet projects into spending bills at the end of the legislative process, preventing any chance for serious public scrutiny. Now Democrats are poised to do the same.

“I don’t give a damn if people criticize me or not,” Obey said.

Obey may have the safest seat in Christendom. He also may be one of the more arrogant SOB’s on the Hill. The combination of the two give the Congressman the confidence to give the rest of us the finger just for trying to hold he and his Democratic friends accountable for how they spend our money.

The Examiner shows how Obey’s “reforms” will work in practice:

The same day, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., disclosed that earmarks will be inserted into bills only after they’ve been approved by the House and sent to conference committees with the Senate. Under this newly rigged process, there won’t be any of those pesky amendments against things like the Bridge to Nowhere. In fact, House members will only be voting on conference committee reports, not on the thousands of earmarks that will be inserted into the bills covered by those reports. In other words, after some tentative moves in the right direction earlier this year, Democrats are now putting the corrupt system disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff called the congressional “favor factory” back behind closed doors.

Obey sounds like he’s a little overworked and under appreciated here:

“I have to sign off on that stuff,” Obey said. “And I’m going to make damn sure that we’ve done everything we can do to make sure that they’re legitimate projects, so that you don’t get embarrassed by some idiot who is putting in money for a project that happens to benefit himself and his wife.”

Those words would carry a helluva lot more weight if you held you own party leader accountable:

Another key Democratic reform requires House members seeking earmarks to certify that neither they nor their spouses have any financial interest in the project.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did just that when she requested $25 million for a project to improve the waterfront in her home district of San Francisco. Her request did not note that her family owns interests in four buildings near the proposed Pier 35 project.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said that any suggestion of a conflict of interest is “ridiculous.” He said that Pelosi was passing along a spending request from the Port of San Francisco and that she would not benefit from it.

Nice try, Brendan. Did you forget the fact that the four buildings will almost certainly increase in value as a result of the improvements? Maybe we should ask how difficult it would be for the Speaker of the House to buttonhole some Port of San Francsico flunkie and get him to make the request in the first place? Of course, that kind of thing never happens, now does it?

The point is not to get rid of earmarks entirely. There are legitimate projects that for one reason or another, the Executive Branch refuses to fund. By having the power to override the objections of federal departments on spending matters, the Congress exercises a form of oversight that is both legal and, in rare cases, necessary.

But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that 13,000 earmarks are a scandal. And the way they are approved is an invitation to corruption. Just ask Duke Cunningham. The California Congressman is spending 8 years in prison for using earmarks to personally enrich himself and his cronies. I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing the same kind of abuses by the Democrats that we got sick to death of under Republicans?

By: Rick Moran at 10:58 am
One Response to “DEMS BELLY UP TO THE EARMARK BAR”
  1. 1
    The Oxford Medievalist Trackbacked With:
    5:29 pm 

    High Comedy on Capitol Hill…

    Eureka! Instead of cleaning up the “culture of corruption” that Nancy Pelosi touted in the 2006 elections with concrete actions by passing “a bunch of little bills” (which, incidentally, is Congress’ job) that actually hold members of Congress acc…

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