Earmarks flood refills the swamp

When Democrats took control of Congress last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, promised voters that her party would “drain the swamp” and “lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history.” Four month later, Democrats are reflooding the swamp with earmarks and more. They turned the defense supplemental bill into what Heritage Foundation President Ed Fuelner called a “$20 billion ransom note” sent to President Bush, which he promptly vetoed.

House Democrats have also attached $100 million of pork to the FY2008 Intelligence Authorization Act, including a $23 million earmark for the National Drug Intelligence Center. The NDIC was established in 1993 to centralize drug war intelligence. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., pulled strings to get it placed in his district. More recently, a 2005 U.S. News & World Report story reported that the facility — located in a renovated department store in Johnstown — “had run through six directors, been rocked by scandal, and been subject to persistent criticisms that it should never have been created at all.” Even former NDIC director Mike Horn admitted that the center’s reports were “God-awful, poorly written, poorly researched, and, in some cases, wrong.” The House Government Reform Committee called NDIC “an expensive and duplicative use of scarce federal drug enforcement resources.” By any rational standard, this $400 million disaster should have been shut down a long time ago.

Last week, Murtha reacted with “finger-jabbing, spittle-spraying” fury when Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., sought an audit of NDIC. Murtha, chairman of the powerful House Defense Appropriations Committee, retaliated by threatening to torpedo any future defense earmarks in the former FBI special agent’s district — in apparent violation of House ethics rules. Rogers was not the first to feel Murtha’s fury. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., was reportedly also berated and threatened when he tried to close a program in Murtha’s district. No wonder the former head of the Congressional Accountability Project called Pelosi’s first pick for House majority leader — whom the House considered reprimanding on Tuesday — “a one-man wrecking crew” of congressional ethics. Rogers has since filed a formal complaint but don’t expect the House to hurry to consider it since Pelosi is defending Murtha against Rogers and other critics.

Earmarks have so distorted the legislative process that repealing even the worst of them is becoming nearly impossible. Members of Congress who dare challenge these sacred cows are on notice from Pelosi and Murtha that they will meet a similar fate as Rogers and Tiahrt. Looks like that swamp won’t be going dry any time soon.

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