Earmark transparency unwound the omnibus

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Slate’s Dave Weigel has a really interesting take on why the omnibus spending bill just stalled in the Senate:

The omnibus spending bill died in the Senate last night, and the death was a long time coming. It started to bleed in 2006, when a series of rule changes and the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act were passed, opening up the process by which bills were marked up to public scrutiny.

The increasing transparency of the earmark process was going to make it tougher for Republicans to support this bill and get away with it. There is nothing — literally, nothing — that currently motivates most Republicans to send money back home.

The more transparent the process became the more difficult it has become for critics of government to lob their bombs at spending while simultaneously bringing home the bacon for their state. It becomes a whole lot more clear as to why Sens. Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd put a secret hold on the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act after seeing what transparency hath wrought.

Weigel also gives a good explanation as to why transparency is important in this instance:

It’s extremely important that earmarking has become a more transparent process, and that it’s now easy to call out members for their requests before bills are voted on. Look at the context, though. Earmarks are only the easiest way to nail members for doing what has never really been controversial — appropriating.

Of course, the irony in this whole story is that the Obama administration is now in a pickle over funding the government–Secretary Gates went so far as to state that a defeat of the omnibus would harm national security–brought about by a federal spending transparency bill that was one of the chief accomplishments of Obama’s short Senate career. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act is also popularly known as the Coburn-Obama bill.

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