Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Democrats do the pork-weasel dance

This is astonishing, both for the brazenness of the tactic and the amount of power David Obey has arrogated to himself:

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 — in documents that accompany spending bills.

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 spending measures in the fall. That is when House and Senate negotiators assemble final bills to send to President Bush.

Obey says the problem is that there are too many earmark requests, and he doesn't want scrutiny of them holding up the larger bills. Fair enough: 36,000 earmark requests is a lot to slog through.

But not only does his edict directly violate recently adopted rules on earmark disclosure, it sets him up to be the sole watchdog on earmarks. And the side effect (whole point?) of the exercise -- not leaving enough time for the earmarks to be publicy scrutinized -- makes the proposal simply unacceptable.

Just a suggestion here, David, but perhaps the solution to being inundated with earmark requests is for the leadership to put a limit on them -- say, four per legislator per session. That would immediately cut such requests to fewer than 2,000 and force legislators to prioritize them.

In the irony department, several Democrats over in the Senate oppose Obey's power grab, among them the King of Pork himself, Robert Byrd. His reasons are not particularly laudable -- he's mad that he won't find out until the fall which of his pet projects will be funded -- but they suggest that Obey's edict may not survive for very long for reasons that have little to do with ethics.

Tangentially, Robert Novak notes that it's not like Republicans are particularly virtuous on the matter, either. But that doesn't in any way excuse the Democrats, because as the majority party they bear the most responsibility for following their own rules.

The Democrats have to start following the spirit as well as the letter of those rules. Earmarks should be debated when bills are considered, just like Democrats promised. If that is a burden, then cap the number and dollar value of earmarks allowed -- preferably at very low levels.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: if the Democratic victory signaled a mandate for anything, it was ethics reform. If they want to keep their majority in 2008, they must follow through on that. Overall they've done a pretty decent job. But stories like this demonstrate why constant vigilance is necessary, lest they slipside back into their bad old habits when they think nobody is looking.

Clean it up, guys. Write clear, strict rules and abide by them. Otherwise every charge of "hypocrisy" is justified.


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6 Comments:

Anonymous Project Vote Smart said...

David Obey’s voting record on budgets, spending, and taxes can be found at: David Obey’s Voting Record

David Obey’s history of speeches on earmarks can be found at: David Obey’s Record of Speeches

David Obey’s ratings from special interest groups on budgets, spending, and taxes can be found at: David Obey’s Interest Group Ratings

For more information on David Obey’s position on budgets, spending and taxes please visit Project Vote Smart or call our hotline at 1-888-VOTE-SMART.

6/05/2007 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Democrats taking the Majority last November just may be the best thing that could have happened to Republicans. Because the Dems are screwing up royally during these months just before the BIG election.

This is the main thing they ran on: ethics and earmarks. And they've not cleaned up either. Plus, it looks like they never intended to.

JP5

6/06/2007 1:41 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Gotta disagree, JP5. First, the elections are more than a year away. Second, "screwing up royally"? Not really.

You claim they've done nothing about ethics and earmarks, when in fact they've done quite a bit already and will do more as the session continues and relevant bills make their slow way through the process.

Yes, we're seeing some attempts to backslide in various quarters, accompanied by a distressing lack of outrage from the leadership. But in general those attempts have been abortive, not successful.

Final judgement will have to wait until the fall recess, of course, but saying they haven't made substantive improvements is simply false.

6/06/2007 7:53 AM  
Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

JP 5,

As long as Iraq is a mess, it won't matter how bad the Democrats do. The hypocrisy of the Dems is, of course, appalling, but no more so than the Republican hypocrisy we have been experiencing for six years. And, at least, with the Democrats in charge, the self-righteous right-wing pricks like Sam Brownback have less power.

6/06/2007 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everytime the Republicans tried to pass any ethics or earmark reform in the last few years, they were blocked. So, at least I'm finally glad to see some interest from the Democrats. We'll see how much they get done. So far it's not looking too good.

JP5

6/06/2007 9:51 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

"Every time" being essentially "once", in the last session -- and the rules would have expired with that session. The same session that saw unprecedented porking and other ethics abuses.

You might want to try another meme.

6/06/2007 11:58 AM  

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