June 14, 2007

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: TOM COBURN TAKES ON THE EARMARXISTS:

Six months ago, the Democratic Party regained its majority in an election that was not just about Iraq. The new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said the American people “called for greater integrity in Washington, and Democrats pledge to make this the most honest, ethical and open Congress in history.”

The history of the intervening months has only confirmed that promises in Washington have a very short shelf life. Any promise not fulfilled within 60 days after an election is apparently considered expired, to be replaced with new promises. I saw this behavior in my own party with regard to the reform of pork-barrel spending — aka “earmarks” — and no Republican fought more forcefully against the forked-tongue syndrome than I did. . . .

If earmark reform in the House is the story of “three steps forward, six steps back,” as Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) tartly observed, the situation in the Senate resembles sidesteps. When we considered ethics and earmark reform in January, Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S. C.) ingeniously forced our chamber to vote on a strong earmark-reform package — written by none other than House Speaker Pelosi herself. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid initially blocked the “DeMint/Pelosi” amendment, but after it was “modified” in a face-saving exercise it passed largely intact.

The DeMint/Pelosi language would disclose backdoor earmarks, often called report language earmarks, that are tucked away in non-binding, staff-written appropriations committee reports. Ninety-five percent of all earmarks are written as “coercive suggestions” to agencies in these explanatory reports that accompany bills. DeMint/Pelosi would make public the sponsors of earmarks, requiring members to file a public disclosure statement stating that neither they nor their spouse will benefit financially from a pork project. Finally, it would give members new procedural tools to block bills that violate these rules.

However, the underlying legislation, S.1, a central Democratic campaign promise, has gone nowhere since it passed five months ago. House and Senate conferees have not even begun meeting to iron out a final bill. Each day, it looks more like another expired promise.

Sen. Reid and top Senate Democrats have had two other opportunities to enact Ms. Pelosi’s earmark reform language. They blocked both attempts, arguing that ethics reform must be done comprehensively, not in a piecemeal fashion — conveniently making the perfect the enemy of the good and doable. Some members of Congress seem to be hoping the public will lose interest in earmark reform. That isn’t likely. Voters and taxpayers continue to be enraged — Congress’s approval rating is an abysmal 27%, in part because reform hasn’t happened. Presidential politics will keep the issue front and center, and the army of bloggers who have long led on this issue are ratcheting up their criticism of the status quo.

And we’ll be ratcheting some more! Meanwhile, here’s video of the Wall Street Journal’s Brendan Miniter on how the Democratic Congress is hiding the pork in ways that their GOP predecessors never dreamed of.

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