Hill GOP: Earmark reforms ‘gutted’

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House Republicans introduced a measure yesterday to restore earmark reforms passed last year that they say were “gutted” by the Democratic leadership.

The measures passed by the House in 2006 allow lawmakers to vote on individual earmarks, specific funding requests attached to larger bills that often are called “pork” — a process Democrats have said they will not use as Congress considers the 12 annual spending bills.

“Our resolution will restore the earmark reforms Republican put in place last year that have been unceremoniously gutted by House Democrats this year,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio. “They’ve traded earmark transparency for earmark secrecy, and American taxpayers deserve better.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer labeled Mr. Boehner’s complaints as an “irony amongst ironies,” describing it as simply a tactical move lacking substance.

Mr. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said that when Republicans were in charge of Congress “a majority of the earmarks” were not included until conference, and that last year’s reforms were passed after the major appropriations bills were completed.

House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, has come under fire from Republican lawmakers and some outside groups for his plans that would keep earmarks “secret” until they are inserted during Senate-House conferences, in which differences between measures passed in each chamber are resolved.

Critics of the move say it will create a “slush fund” of pork-barrel spending with little transparency or accountability.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers took to the House floor to protest what they called an excessive and inappropriate use of the earmark process.

“There are people that are in prison today because of this,” said Rep. David Dreier, California Republican.

“If you have more information, that gives you power,” he added.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, a longtime critic of earmarks, said lawmakers need the power of information about potential projects to make a decision.

“Under what has been proposed, we will never have a vote on a single earmark, and that is simply wrong,” Mr. Flake said.

Mr. Obey described his party’s approach to earmarks as a “sweeping change” from the previous Congress. Mr. Obey said the earmark-disclosure process has been backlogged because Republicans did not finish appropriations bills, including funds for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina recovery, before adjourning last year.

Mr. Obey said it will take at least four to five weeks to properly scrutinize more than 32,000 spending requests. He said lawmakers will then have 30 days to review and challenge earmarks. After such a challenge is made, the earmark’s author will have the chance to respond in writing. “There’s a big difference between what we are doing and the old Republican process,” he said.

Still, Republicans say that is a contradiction to promises made by Democrats in the past year, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for stronger earmark reform.

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