DeMint Has a Point (Sort Of)


After taking over Congress last January, House Democrats passed a House rule, all by themselves, that required disclosure of earmarks. We have an analysis of the House rule here; of course, there were bumps in the road implementing it, but we’re starting to see an unprecedented amount of earmark disclosure from the House. The Senate, by contrast, put its earmark disclosure measures in a bill, S. 1,, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act, meaning that, until the House and President sign off on it, the Senate effectively operates under the old, nondisclosure rules (although Sen. Robert Byrd, the chairman of the Senate Appropiations Committee, has adopted his own rules; you can see here and here how Byrd’s rule is working.

The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act — which also provides for better lobbying disclosure and other reforms that do need House and Presidential approval — was moving toward conference when Sen. Jim DeMint, a fierce earmark opponent, entered the fray. As John Stanton reports in Roll Call (subscription only),

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) scuttled a deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to start long-stalled conference proceedings on an ethics and lobbying reform package Thursday afternoon, raising an objection at the last minute even as McConnell and Reid were formalizing the agreement. …

DeMint accused Democrats of attempting to essentially scrap the new rules — which put in place new restrictions on how the Senate doles out billions in earmarks — in order to ease passage of massive spending bills this year without having to abide by the rules.

“We will not have earmark reform during this year’s appropriations process. That is why this is being done,” DeMint charged on the floor, adding later that “the only reason to go to conference with [the rules] in is to take them out.”

There’s obviously a bit of partisan theatrics here (there was some on the Democratic side as well — Stanton reported that shortly after DeMint put his hold on the bill, Senate Democrats took to the floor to claim that the GOP was blocking ethics reform), but on the fundamental point (that the Senate should adopt earmark disclosure rules now, rather than wait for passage of the bill), DeMint is right. Pity that he’s blocking lobbying and other reforms to make it.

Of course, there’s another alternative. Individual members of the Senate — Democrats and Republicans alike — could bypass the rules process and post their own earmark requests online. Oddly enough, that doesn’t seem to be a very popular option. It’s particularly pathetic that, when asked by CNN whether they would make public their earmark requests, the offices of Reid, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Chuck Schumer didn’t answer the question, and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s said no. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon, a swell lot of reformers…

Correction and Update (red-faced division): In the original version of this post, I mistakenly included DeMint among those not posting lists of earmarks. DeMint had no requests — something the CNN chart makes clear, but that I misenterpreted the first time around. I regret the error.