Thursday, June 29, 2006

WSJ's coverage of Jeff Flake efforts to curb earmarks

A subscription only article in today's WSJ (Tilting at Appropriations?: Arizona Lawmaker Rattles Both Sides of the House With Quest to Curb Earmks) shows up on page A4 of the should have been front page (emphasis added):
WASHINGTON -- Arizona's Jeff Flake is a political guerrilla with a smile, a ringer for actor Owen Wilson who crashes not weddings but his own Republican Party. Since May, the Republican congressman has grabbed the spotlight with the "Flake Hour" -- a tradition at the end of debate on spending bills, in which he asks colleagues to come to the House floor and explain why taxpayers should pay for pet projects in their districts...

...And like no one else, he has taken on the scandal plagued House Appropriations Committee, a Republican power structure assigned the task of earmarking billions of dollars for home-state projects among members this election year.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R., Calif.) has twice had his projects targeted. Last wee, Mr. Flake challenged a $2.5 million grant for an Illinois technology center favored by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.)...

"I don't think our leadership fully appreciates the trouble we are in," Mr. Flake says, explaining that Republicans are cutting their throats politically by continuing to sanction earmarks as part of an "all politicis is local" re-election strategy. The approach, he says, sacrafices the party's credibility with voters who want more control of spending. "What's just mystifying is the sense of entitlement now: You have the right to have your projects without anyone else knowing about it or being able to challenge it. That's your inherent right as a member of Congress."

...Total spending for earmarks has been reduced modestly, and steps have been taken to require more transparency and a local match for federal grants. But the total amount, $9.6 billion in the House bills so far, is still the equivalent of the Interior Department budget, and even members of the Appropriations Committee say they are overwhelmed by a political patronage system that has spun out of their control...


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