John Solomon & Jeffrey Birnbaum:
But the new majority is already skirting its own reforms.
Perhaps the biggest retreat from that pledge came this week, when House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) told fellow lawmakers that he intends to keep requests for earmarks out of pending spending bills, at least for now. Obey said the committee will deal with them at the end of the appropriations process in the closed-door meetings between House and Senate negotiators known as conference committees.
Democrats had complained bitterly in recent years that Republicans routinely slipped multimillion-dollar pet projects into spending bills at the end of the legislative process, preventing any chance for serious public scrutiny. Now Democrats are poised to do the same.
“I don’t give a damn if people criticize me or not,” Obey said.
Obey’s spokeswoman, Kirstin Brost, said his intention is not to keep the projects secret. Rather, she said, so many requests for spending were made to the appropriations panel — more than 30,000 this year — that its staff has been unable to study them and decide their validity.
For instance, a new emergency spending bill for the Iraq war passed by the House this month had no specific earmarks, but it included a clause declaring that all the projects lawmakers had included in a previously vetoed bill were, in effect, included.
Likewise, the House Appropriations Committee report accompanying the Iraq supplemental spending bill vetoed by President Bush boldly declared: “This bill, as reported, contains no congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits.” But it set aside money for pet projects including $25 million for spinach, $60 million for salmon fisheries and $5 million for aquaculture.
“Absolutely nothing has changed,” said the Center for Defense Information’s Winslow T. Wheeler, a Senate appropriations and national security aide who worked for both Democrats and Republicans over three decades before stepping down in 2002. “The rhetoric has changed but not the behavior, and the behavior has gotten worse in the sense that while they are pretending to reform things, they are still groveling in the trough.”
A 2006 spending bill included $6.9M for Obey’s Northern Wisconsin District. Much more on earmarks, including those spread around Madison, here.
More from the Examiner here.