- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Members of Congress wanting to secure taxpayer cash for pet projects back home would no longer be able to do it secretly under a measure passed by the House yesterday, a reform effort leaders hope will severely curtail a practice known as earmarking.

The election-year change to House rules passed 245-171, with many calling it a step in the right direction to ultimately curbing earmarking, also known as pork-barrel spending. Members also said it would shine more light on the process to prevent bribery scandals like those that rocked Washington in the past year.

“If you aren’t willing to put your name on the project, you shouldn’t expect the American people to pay for it,” said Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

“We are blowing away the fog of anonymity so the public can have a clear picture of what the projects are, how much they cost and who is sponsoring them,” agreed House Rules Chairman David Dreier, California Republican who authored the change.

Many yesterday evoked the $223 million “bridge to nowhere,” nicknamed for a bridge in a sparsely populated area in Alaska. It was stripped from the highway-spending bill last year after its exposure prompted public outcry. That and other earmarks such as $90,000 for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, are examples of pork projects often tucked away in lengthy legislation. Before yesterday’s change, the authors of such earmarks did not have to be disclosed.

Watchdog groups estimate the nearly 10,000 earmarks submitted this year cost taxpayers $29 billion.

Rep. Jeff Flake, one of the biggest critics of earmarking, called the bill a “little dose” of accountability and transparency, but said he doubts earmarking will cease.

“You kind of have to have a third element, and that’s shame, and we have too little of it here,” the Arizona Republican said. “As long as you can stand up with a straight face and say, ‘I just got an earmark for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame,’ then it’s tough to say we’re going to change anything with this bill.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, dismissed the earmarks bill as a “political gimmick to make it look as if something is happening.”

The change to House rules would require all earmarks in a committee-passed bill to be clearly listed with the requesting member’s name attached. The rule, which does not apply to the Senate, is subject to renewal when a new Congress is inaugurated in January.

Democrats said because the rule does not apply to “manager’s amendments” that leaders usually push to the floor or to bills that bypass committee, the changes wouldn’t prevent the “bridge to nowhere” or some of the more objectionable pork projects.

“This is a joke, it is a fraud … it focuses on the minutiae instead of the big problems,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee also opposed the change because they think it unfairly targets them.

Republican leaders boast a 37 percent decline in earmarks in the past year, but critics note earmarks have skyrocketed since the 2,000 approved in 1994 when Republicans took over.

“A smaller government is less susceptible to influence peddling and corruption, and as Republicans we should champion that cause,” said Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, who ran for majority leader earlier this year on an earmark-reform platform.

Lawmakers yesterday also hailed the Wednesday passage of a bill creating a Web-accessible database of the billions awarded in government contracts and grants. President Bush has said he will sign the bill, and lawmakers said yesterday it is a good first step to let taxpayers see how their money is spent.

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