The House Republican Leadership–Speaker and Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader and Rep. John Boehner and Rules Committee Chairman and Rep. David Dreier –issued a joint statement promising to implement reforms in the earmark process, "independent of the ongoing lobbying and ethics reform discussions to ensure these new rules apply to all spending and tax measures that will go to the President’s desk this fall." (emphasis in original). The statement also tells us,
The House-passed lobbying and ethics reform bill includes a series of significant reforms meant to bring greater transparency and accountability to the congressional earmarking practice. House Republicans are committed to extending these reforms to all committees and implementing them during the current session of Congress, before any spending or tax bill for the upcoming fiscal year goes to the President’s desk.
The relevant section of the House Bill, H.R. 4975, would require sponsors of earmarks to be identified either in the text of the legislation or in the conference report of appropriations bills. It’s not a perfect solution, but anything that adds any transparency to the process is welcome. What concerns me is the definition of earmarks:
For the purpose of this resolution, the term ‘earmark’ means a provision in a bill or conference report, or language in an accompanying committee report or joint statement of managers, providing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority to a non-Federal entity, if such entity is specifically identified in the report or bill; or if the discretionary budget authority is allocated outside of the normal formula-driven or competitive bidding process and is targeted or directed to an identifiable person, specific State, or congressional district.
One way around that provision, of course, would be to write out earmarks in a way that would obfuscate the recipient — say, award a research contract to any company incorporated in Walla Walla, Washington, on March 14, 1972, or to, say, a company owned by any "Texas resident whose birthdate is May 16, 1931, and a Michigan resident whose birthday is November 16, 1941." Far fetched? Hardly — such language turned up in the tax code in the 1980s to provide a large windfall to a still-unidentified beneficiary (investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele unearthed that–and dozens of other–feats of congressional obfuscation in the Tax Reform Act of 1986). And of course, Hastert, Boehner and Dreier could get their effort off to a better start had they, in attention to issuing their statement, listed all the earmarks they’ve requested, and published online the forms they used to request them.