Friday, February 09, 2007

Earmark Reform? We don't need no stinking Earmark Reform!

If you're a fiscal conservative and feeling like Hans Brinker, but with multiple leaks in the dike popping up around you, it's understandable. The earmark refroms passed last month are already being watered down by Congress' new dialing-for-dollars ways.

From It's a Trough Life (HT: BizzyBlog via email):
Potomac Watch
It's a Trough Life
February 9, 2007; Page A10

This budget week, there was one thing on which Democrats and Republicans agreed: It's time to do something about earmarks. And in a nod to voter disapproval with these special-interest projects, this year Congress will do its pork spending in secret.

Welcome to Congress's new and dirtier earmark game, in which the big spenders are setting all the rules. In front of the cameras, both parties claim to have found earmark religion, and are talking up a bill that would reform the way Congress asks for billions in goodies for lawmakers' home districts. Behind the scenes, they're working feverishly to keep the earmarks rolling, this time using a technique outside of the legislative process and hidden from public view...

...Congressional members, led by appropriators and an army of staff, have already figured out a new way to keep their favors in the money, and it might as well be called 1-800-EARMARKS (which unfortunately is already taken). All across Washington, members are at this moment phoning budget officers at federal agencies -- Interior, Defense, HUD, you name it -- privately demanding that earmarks in previous legislation be fully renewed again this year. There might not be a single official earmark in the 2007 spending bill, but thousands are in the works all the same.

And getting far less scrutiny than before -- if that's even possible. Under this new regime, members don't even have to go to the trouble of slipping an earmark into a committee report, where it might later (once the voting is over) come in for criticism. All the profligates need now to keep the money flowing is a quiet office and a cellphone.

Despite a congressional desire to keep this quiet, the evidence of marathon dialing is mounting. Lobbyists, thrilled their clients are still getting earmark handouts, are now publicly crowing about this underground program. Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn -- anti-earmark warriors -- sent a letter to the Department of Energy last week wanting to know how that agency was handling the demands. On the same day, DOE chief of staff Jeffrey Kupfer delivered an internal memo to agency officers acknowledging that "offices have begun to receive requests from some Congressional offices, asking that the Department continue to fund programs or activities that received earmarked funds in prior years," and laying out a procedure for handling such orders...


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