WASHINGTON – After promising unprecedented openness regarding Congress’ pork barrel practices, House Democrats are moving in the opposite direction as they draw up spending bills for the upcoming budget year.
Democrats are sidestepping rules approved their first day in power in January to clearly identify “earmarks” — lawmakers’ requests for specific projects and contracts for their states.
Rather than including specific pet projects, grants and contracts in legislation as it is being written, Democrats are following an order by the House Appropriations Committee chairman to keep the bills free of such earmarks until it is too late for critics to effectively challenge them.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), says those requests for dams, community grants and research contracts for favored universities or hospitals will be added to spending measures in the fall. That is when House and Senate negotiators assemble final bills.
Such requests total billions of dollars.
As a result, most lawmakers will not get a chance to oppose specific projects as wasteful or questionable when the spending bills for various agencies get their first votes in the full House in June.
The House-Senate compromise bills due for final action in September cannot be amended and are subject to only one hour of debate, precluding challenges to individual projects.
Betsy Newmark writes:
Hmmm, have we heard this before? Yup, remember the Republicans who ran in 1994 about changing how Congress worked and cutting back on pork. Well, that didn’t happen either. And I would make another bet. Republicans will run in 2008 charging the Democrats with not being open and not obeying their own rules. And if the Republicans somehow took over Congress, they too would fall into the same disappointing pattern. Congress can’t discipline itself. They write their own rules and attach no penalty for breaking them.
If voters really cared, we’d vote against any politician who was providing pork for our districts. If getting earmarks and pork was a path to losing election, they wouldn’t do it. But voters might say they don’t like pork, but they seem to enjoy getting it for their hometowns. And so the politicians will keep breaking their own campaign pledges. And we’ll keep seeing headlines like this no matter which party is in control.
Tigerhawk makes a suggestion:
The Congressional system is busted. The “imperial presidency” is not the greatest threat to American democracy, the virtually undefeatable House of Representatives is. The only ways to reform it involve changing the rules by which we draw Congressional districts (so that 90% of the seats are no longer incontestably safe) or imposing term limits. Unfortunately, Congress is not likely to support either of those reforms, so this is what we have to live with. Government of careerists, by careerists, and for careerists, shall not perish from the earth.
What do YOU think?