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Tag Archive: Earmark Reform

Coburn Site Offers Earmark Info

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The official Web site of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., offers an "earmark toolkit" for visitors. The most useful element is the summary of the appropriations process and the means by which members secure funding for their pet projects. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more information on individual earmarks or, alternatively, lists of them all, although given the fine work that many others have done identifying them in appropriations bills (most notably, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Porkbusters), there’s little reason for a Senate office to duplicate their efforts.

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GOP In-Fighting Over Earmark Reforms:

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The Associated Press is reporting that the House Republicans have not been able to come to an agreement on the earmark reform provisions in the lobbying and ethics "reform" bill (if you want to know why I use quotations marks go here). In one corner is Appropriations Chair Jerry Lewis (R-CA) who is peeved that the earmark reform only targets earmarks originating out of his committee. Lewis declared that a reform that "does not touch on the 'Bridge to Nowhere' is not really reform." In the other corner is Mike Pence (R-IN), the spokesman for the most conservative Republicans. He said to CongressDailyPM that Lewis' argument against limiting earmark reform to the Appropriations Committee alone "feels to many of us like an effort to defeat earmark reform." Caught in the middle is Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) who is "confident" the bill will be "on the floor tomorrow" despite Republicans having "some work to do on earmark reform". In the Senate Tom Coburn (R-OK) is planning to offer amendments to the emergency spending bill directly targeting spending that he wants to cut, including the Gulf Coast railroad sought by Trent Lott, Thad Cochran, and Haley Barbour. (CongressDailyPM)

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Earmark Reform Expanding:

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When earmark reform first came to the table it aimed at reigning in earmarks in appropriations bills, but now lawmakers are seeking to limit earmarks in authorization measures as well. According to Roll Call, Appropriations Committee members are trying to insure that they are not the sole target of the reform legislation. Appropriations member Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) pointed out in a “Dear Colleague” letter that the notorious “Bridge to Nowhere” appeared in an authorization measure and not in an appropriations bill.

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Earmark Reform Could Cost Bipartisanship, Test GOP Comity:

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The process of earmarking often unites lawmakers across party lines for the purpose of bringing money back to their state and respective districts. The Hill newspaper reports that this bipartisan behavior, rare nowadays on Capitol Hill, could be lost in the wake of earmark reform. The Transportation Bill, which passed the House 412-8, is a symbol of this process, where lawmakers put their pet projects in, and “[exchange] pleasantries on the floor.” In a related story on the pressures of earmark reform the comity of the Republican Conference is being tested. The Washington Times reports that Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and other House Republicans are backing the practice of earmarking while conservative stalwart Jeff Flake (R-AZ) denounces the pushback against reform by stating, “The Empire is striking back.”

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Lobbyists Eye Pork for Greasing, Lawmakers Eye Reform:

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The former chief of staff to Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) – now a lobbyist – is a master at greasing the wheels to get earmarks, for her clients from the Chairman, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Letitia White’s lobbying firm and their clients have contributed 37 percent of the $1.3 million raised by Lewis’ political action committee over the past six years while she has obtained numerous earmarks for her clients, defense contractors and California municipalities. Congress is eyeing reform of this practice as the federal budget deficit swells to unheard of proportions. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Trent Lott (R-CA); John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK); and Barack Obama (D-IL) all have varying proposals to reform the process. Meanwhile, The Hill newspaper reports that some lawmakers receive earmark requests via e-mail, making the process easier for both parties.

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Reform Takes Different Forms in Panel Hearings:

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Senators clashed over some reform proposals at yesterday’s Senate ethics reform hearings, according to the New York Times. The most contentious issue was a proposal by Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL) to create an independent office to investigate ethics violations and criminal corruption in Congress. Obama acknowledged that it would be a difficult to create such an office as he ran up against criticism from Republican Senators, including Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN). Sen. Russ Feingold’s attack on privately-funded travel caused reactions as Senator Coleman defended the practice and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrestled with the issue. Sen. Feingold also stated that, “we are hearing the sound of furious backpedaling in the corridors of power.” The issue of earmark reform, talked about at length by Sen. McCain, will certainly go forward as it saw bipartisan support. Earmark reform may face a greater test in the House where Rep. Don Young, notorious for his earmarked “Bridge to Nowhere,” offered to let lawmakers who support earmark reform to pull out their earmarks from last year’s appropriations bills. Only one lawmaker, Charlie Bass (R-NH), took him up on the offer.

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Lawmakers Seek to Reel in Earmarks:

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Earmarks in Appropriations bills have ballooned from 4,000 a decade ago to over 14,000 today. Legislators from both parties are taking aim at these projects and are proposing various degrees of reforms. In a Bloomberg article conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is “threatening to slow the Senate's business to a crawl by forcing his colleagues to vote on each of the thousands of obscure, sometimes unusual pork-barrel projects.” He asks, “Should we be spending money in ways that are other than in the vital interest of the country?” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is joining Coburn in threatening to bring each earmark to a vote. According to the New York Times, Trent Lott (R-MS) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have proposed a reform that “would allow senators to object to any earmarks added in the final stages of negotiations and force sponsors to win at least 60 votes to retain them … [and] require that the final version of legislation be available for at least 24 hours before a floor vote and that the sponsor of each earmark be included along with a justification.”

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Bipartisan Earmark Reform Offered:

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Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Trent Lott (R-MS) offered their proposal to reform the process of earmarking in appropriations bills, according to Roll Call. The reform would allow Senators to challenge individual items in a conference report and require that 60 votes be required for the item to survive. The reform would also shine much needed “sunlight” onto the process by requiring that the conference report list the lawmaker that has proposed each earmark along with a justification for the item and by requiring that all conference reports be available 24 hours in advance on the Internet so that members may study and read them. The Washington Post and the New York Times both devoted space to earmarks today, the Post giving a primer on the process and the Times talking about the strains that earmarks place on the Energy Department.

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