Lawmakers can’t quit earmarks

Congress appears headed to approve a record number of earmarks in 2007, despite the fact that last November, angry voters registered their disgust with the practice by electing Democrats who pledged a new era of transparency in government spending.

To be blunt, earmark reform is making precious little headway in Congress. A quick glance at The Examiner Newspapers/Porkbusters Earmark Reform Index for the U.S. Senate helps explain why.

Two-thirds of the Senate is adamantly opposed to reforming their appropriations perks, no matter what the public says. Readers can view the index on Examiner.com at: http://www.examiner.com/assets/washington_dc/documents/WECAN/database/Examiner-Porkbusters%20Earmark%20Reform%20Index%20for%202007.xls

Earmarks are spending measures anonymously inserted by lawmakers in appropriations bills, with no accountability to prevent the funds from going to a senator or congressman’s campaign donors, favored special interests, family members or present or former staff members. The index is based on how senators voted on 12 key earmark reform opportunities in recent years.

The selected votes includes tallies on the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, the Railroad to Nowhere in Mississippi, the Iraq emergency supplemental bill and the baubles attached to the Pentagon spending bill. Seven of the votes are from 2007, two are from 2006 and three are from 2005.

Each pro-reform vote received 8.3 points, while each anti-reform vote received zero points. The index score represents each senator’s total of pro-reform votes. The index will soon be expanded to include the House of Representatives. The Senate data was released first because the upper chamber has been the main focus of earmark reform efforts in Congress.

The results make clear that Senate opposition to earmark reform crosses party lines and includes a clear majority of 72 members who scored less than 50 in the index. Most of the 72 scored lower than 40, meaning they voted for earmark reform three or fewer times out of 12 selected chances. Overall, the average score for the Senate was only 30.6. The average among Democrats was 14.3, but Republican partisans have little to cheer about because the GOP average was only 43.9. Eight of the top 10 scores were compiled by GOP senators, while eight of the bottom 10 scores were compiled by Democrats.

The two senators most closely associated with pork barrel spending — Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska — scored 0 and 16.6, respectively. Among Senate mucky mucks, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scored 16.6 and Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., 24.9. Both Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., scored 24.9.

Message: Watch what senators do, not what they say.

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