Democrats do the pork-weasel dance
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.
Obey, ethics, politics, midtopia