Nancy Pelosi, who campaigned on a platform of ending lobbyist influence and the "culture of corruption" in Congress, has unveiled a new strategy to do both. She wants people to call pork-barrel line items something other than "earmarks" so that Congress can get back to stuffing legislation full of pet projects and keep their leverage with the lobbyists:
The congressional spending season began with a blowup over earmarks in the House yesterday, as the first bill to reach a vote prompted a White House veto threat and scores of amendments from Republicans furious with Democrats' handling of pet-project spending in the measures.
Debate on the $36 billion homeland security bill, which would fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency, border security and counterterrorism measures, bogged down last night as Republicans pushed scores of amendments aimed at banning the use of counterterrorism money for designer handbags, puppet shows and other programs included in the legislation. Democrats, intent on passing 11 of the 12 appropriations measures before the July 4 recess, responded by vowing to stay through the weekend if needed to break the deadlock. ...
"Why don't we just leave this room today forgetting the word 'earmark'?" suggested Pelosi. "This is a way for . . . members to come together, sometimes in a bipartisan way, to have the Congress of the United States determine some of what is in the appropriations bills instead of just leaving it up to the White House."
Bipartisanship was in short supply yesterday. In speech after speech, Republicans attacked a plan by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) to keep hundreds of earmark requests out of the bills until later in the process. Though Obey estimates that such spending accounts for less than 2 percent of the bills' combined tab of $955 billion, he said he has been snowed under by more than 30,000 lawmaker "boodle" requests. To give himself and committee staff members more time to screen them, he plans to drop the earmarks into the bills when they move to the House-Senate conference committees before the August break, giving members and the public a month to review and question them. Any changes could be made when the House bills are reconciled with Senate versions, he said.
What a great strategy for cleaning up government! We just simply rename pork-barrel projects to something more melodious to the ear, and then stick them into bills so late in the process that they cannot be removed. The Wall Street Journal explains:
At least Republicans allowed earmark votes on the floor. Under Mr. Obey, earmarks won't be vetted in an Appropriations subcommittee, or at the Rules Committee, or on the floor. They will be kept secret before the House votes on spending bills, to be unveiled only later when it is time to prepare a final House-Senate conference report. Only then will backbenchers be able to raise questions about individual earmarks -- in writing, to Mr. Obey's "staff," which will then get to decide whether the earmarks survive or not. Guess what "the staff" decision will be on an earmark requested by, say, Powerhouse Democrat Jack Murtha and a challenge raised by some first-term Republican from Amarillo?
In other words, the Democrats have not acted on behalf of open government. They have deliberately acted to keep earmarks concealed, and also make it more difficult to root them out. As Jack Murtha demonstrated in his tirade, the Democrats have every intention of using earmarks for arm-twisting and backroom deals that encourage the kind of corruption that existed at the heart of the Duke Cunningham and William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson cases.
Earmarks give legislators too much individual power, and usually result in a waste of federal monies. They allow incumbents to create an entrenched interest in their districts and states that have less to do with good policy and more to do with inordinate spending. They reward lobbyists who shower legislators with contributions and fundraisers, which then incentivizes Congress to demand more and more money from taxpayers to fund these pet projects.
And Nancy Pelosi's plan to fight this corruption of the legislative process is to call earmarks something else. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as the saying goes -- and pig manure as well.
But let's get in the spirit of this thing. Let's get some suggestions for new names. We'll collect them in the comments today, and tomorrow we'll hold a run-off poll to select the new nomenclature for pork-barrel spending. If that's how Nancy Pelosi intends to clean up Washington, we can provide some needed assistance.
UPDATE: Please make sure you leave your entry in the comments section. The winning entry from the run-off will get a free copy of The Reagan Diaries, as an antidote to the inanity that Pelosi's leadership has provided. In the meantime, check out Mark Tapscott's review of the media reaction to David Obey, which is a lot more negative than you'd imagine.