Here is a rule change the Democrats put in that will make an immediate difference
House Tightens Disclosure Rules for Pet Projects
WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 — The House voted on Friday to pull the shadowy tradition of Congressional earmarking into the daylight, requiring lawmakers to attach their names to the pet items they slip into spending or tax bills and certify that they have no financial interest in the provisions.
A supporter wore a button Friday celebrating Nancy Pelosi’s election as speaker of the House. Democrats had an open house Friday for staffs, supporters and lawmakers before the session’s first full day of work.
More than any of several ethics rules adopted by the House this week, the earmark measure could prevent the kind of corruption that led to several big scandals in recent years, including former Representative Randy Cunningham’s sale of earmarks to government contractors for cash, gifts and campaign contributions.
The cost of earmarks has tripled in the last 12 years, to more than $64 billion annually. Some lawmakers treated their share of that money as personal accounts to dole out to constituents or, in many cases, campaign contributors.
In what lawmakers of both parties called a recognition of the backlash against such corruption in the November elections, the earmark rule the Democrats passed extends far beyond the proposal they introduced last spring and campaigned on in the fall. That proposal applied only to earmarks that are typically already well publicized.
It also goes further than a measure the Republicans passed just weeks before the November election. As in other efforts to change the earmarking process, the Republican leaders foundered against the opposition of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which doles out earmarks as it writes spending bills.
The vote on the new earmark measure was linked to a rule known as “pay as you go” that would prohibit the House from increasing the deficit by passing any new tax cuts or entitlement spending programs without offsetting them with spending cuts or tax increases.
Republicans denounced the “pay as you go” rule as an excuse for Democrats to increase taxes. “I call it the Flip Wilson rule,” said Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, referring to the comedian whose signature line was, “The devil made me do it.”
Still, the changes were approved by a vote of 280 to 152, with 48 Republicans joining all 232 Democrats.
On the subject of earmarks, Mr. Pence and several other Republicans commended the Democrats as heeding the message the voters sent at the polls. “We went through an election where voters were rightfully outraged” by the practice of earmarking, said Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin.
In a signal that they, too, had heard the message, the Republican minority incorporated the same changes into the token alternative they proposed before the Democratic majority passed the new House rules.
“I’m pleased that Democrat leaders agree with Republicans that earmark reform is a critical issue,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, said.
Even as the Democrats were passing the strict new disclosure rules, however, at least one influential chairman suggested that he was less than fully committed to the full breadth of their application.
The rules would require lawmakers to disclose their sponsorship of not only spending earmarks but also narrowly focused tax or tariff reductions affecting fewer than 10 companies or people — something the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee had resisted just as the Appropriations Committee had for spending provisions.
After the vote on Friday on the new rule, Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, the new Ways and Means Committee chairman, suggested that such resistance had not disappeared.
“You have to assume that everything we have done is subject to a revisit,” Mr. Rangel said. “We support the speaker and her drive to get things done within 100 hours,” he said, referring to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But, he added, “These things are not locked in cement.”
Mr. Rangel and other Democrats also acknowledged that the adoption of the pay-as-you-go rules would force tough choices when it came to delivering on campaign promises like new education subsidies, some of which would fall under the rules.
In particular, the rules will make it more difficult to repair the alternative minimum tax, which, thanks to inflation, penalizes millions of middle-class households as well as its original targets, the rich. Repairing the tax is estimated to cost as much as $1 trillion in lost revenue over 10 years.
Mr. Rangel said he was determined to find $1 trillion of tax revenue elsewhere to pay for the repair, as much as possible by eliminating outdated tax loopholes. “You have to throw it right in the middle of the tax code and say, ‘We are removing this,’ and then you have to find the money,” he said.
In a meeting with reporters, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader, promised that Democrats would cut the number of earmarks in half in the next budget, for the 2008 fiscal year. But several Democrats emphasized that the new rules would not alone reduce the amount of earmarks, but could result in more restraint.
Lawmakers already race to take credit for earmarked projects for their districts. But it has often been impossible for outsiders to learn who sponsored earmarks no one took credit for, and unclaimed earmarks were often the ones that played a role in corruption scandals. The new rules will require disclosure of all earmarks in a bill, as well as their sponsors, their purpose and their costs. The rules will also prohibit party leaders from trading earmarks for members’ votes.
Skip to next paragraph In contrast to the past opposition of appropriations chairmen, Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who now leads the committee, was a driving force behind the earmark rule, several Democrats involved in the matter said.
Mr. Obey said Friday that over the last 12 years of Republican control the number of earmarks in the labor, health and education spending bill had risen to 3,000, from zero.
“I think that is a gross exaggeration of what our staffs have the ability to review,” he said. “I don’t want a single earmark in any bill that the committee staff cannot review to make certain that the reputation of this House and the reputation of the committee are protected.”
In particular, Mr. Obey added the requirement for lawmakers requesting earmarks to clarify that they had no financial interest in the project, to prevent directing taxpayer money toward projects like the beautification of a relative’s shopping mall.
Although previous rules already prohibited such self-dealing, “when a member has to certify publicly, it focuses the mind,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.
The Senate is expected to take up its own earmark rules next week. The initial proposal, based on a bill that passed the Senate last year but not the House, would apply to only a small fraction of earmarks, excluding those directed to military or other federal contracts, as well as those described in legislative reports instead of bill texts. Several lawmakers, however, have said they hope to strengthen the Senate rules, too.
[QUOTE=Queens Jet Fan]Well can't you admit that this is a giant first step that everybody should praise?[/QUOTE]
Where did I say it wasn't? :D
I support every and any law/rule that makes our elected officials more accountable and forces them to be more honest. I could care less which side puts it forward. In this case it's the Dems, so yes, I support their action completely (although, as you might expect, I'd want even more in this direction).