March 12, 2007

Earmark Reform Out Of Vogue Already?

One of the few highlights of the 2006 election came in the form of renewed discussion of the corrosive power of pork-barrel spending. Both parties, despite having long histories of pork production, promised to champion earmark reform and new sunlight on appropriation processes in Congress. The Democrats won the majorities in both chambers, and those of us who demanded earmark reform hoped that we might finally see progress.

Unfortunately, we see cloudiness on a Sunshine Week, as Mark Tapscott pointed out today:

When I heard last week from Hill sources that the White House congressional liason staff was pressuring OMB Director Rob Portman to not release all of the earmarks requested by Members of Congress to executive agencies under the FY2005 budget, I called the OMB press office.

When I asked for a copy of the earmark database and copies of all correspondence between OMB and executive branch officials and Members and Hill staff, I was promised a call-back from a senior OMB spokesman. Not surprisingly, that call never came.

Now this morning, word is circulating on the Hill that the Bush administration is going to release only a limited database of earmarks later today or maybe no database at all, but just aggregate or summary data.

Seems the White House legislative staff fears releasing the database would offend members of the appropriation committees in Congress. So, the public gets the shaft, again, on a topic on which there is no doubt where the American people stand.

Oh, yes. For us mere peons to ask our lords and masters in Congress about how they plan to spend our money apparantly is an unforgivable faux pas, a horrid little lapse in manners. How dare we question the bill while they enjoy the feast! Why, it's tantamount to forcing them to talk with their mouths full!

As Mark explains in his update, OMB essentially reneged on a promise to identify earmarks by the requestors. They had made it clear that they would start building openness into the appropriations processes, but suddenly everyone seems rather gun-shy. The White House doesn't want to offend the new majorities, while the new majorities spend most of their time trying to embarrass the White House or to declare defeat in Iraq.

The Democrats, of course, could steal a march on the Republicans by demanding that all earmarks get identified by their sponsors. That would put the White House and OMB on the defensive, trying to explain their new policy of pork politesse in the face of Democratic demands for frank and open policy.

I'll just hold my breath until that happens.


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