Having your cake and eating it, too

Last December, victorious congressional Democrats pledged a one-year moratorium on all earmarks. New appropriations chairmen Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., issued a joint statement promising voters “there will be no congressional earmarks” until 2008 — and only after tough reforms were enacted. But if you watch what they do instead of listening to what they say, it’s abundantly clear that just six months later, the earmark moratorium is already over.

Anti-earmark crusader Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., predicted then that fellow lawmakers would continue to funnel billions of dollars of pork to their favored constituents, and he’s been proven right. The Democratic leadership has essentially abandoned the pretense of eliminating earmarks in their proposed $2.9 trillion budget for 2008. They are acting very much like the Republicans they replaced.

After checking every congressional Web site, the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense found that senators on the Armed Services Committee have begun “crowing about the defense earmark booty they’d plundered” from the committee’s $650 billion, 1,446-page military spending bill.

The cavalier way the new Democratic majority quickly abandoned its promise to “drain the swamp” was succinctly summed up by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., earlier this week. In a frank admission to Examiner editors, Mikulski said she would continue to sponsor “smart earmarks” — with the term conveniently defined by her. But there’s nothing “smart” about tacking on billions of dollars in earmarks to phone-book-size appropriations bills that bypass agency procurement rules, competitive bidding, congressional oversight and public scrutiny.

The situation is no better on the House side where the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water Resources Conservation and Improvement Act of 2007 came to the floor Tuesday loaded with 14 earmarks for water projects throughout Texas.

No names of the earmarks’ sponsors were included because, since the bill was considered under a suspension of the rules, the House reforms adopted in January didn’t apply. And House Appropriations Committee chairman Obey says colleagues have submitted so many earmarks — more than 36,000 — that he will hold all of them until after House and Senate conference committees report spending bills back to their respective chambers for final votes.

That means, according to AP, that “most lawmakers will not get a chance to oppose specific projects as wasteful or questionable when the spending bills for various agencies get their first votes in the full House in June. The House-Senate compromise bills due for final action in September cannot be amended and are subject to only one hour of debate, precluding challenges to individual projects.”

This is called having your earmark reform cake and eating it, too.

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