House Republicans are threatening to stall action on the annual appropriations process to highlight the Democratic-led Congress’ approach to “pork-barrel” projects.
Government-watchdog groups and Republicans say a plan to allow lawmakers to attach pet projects after the spending bills are passed is hypocritical and “violates the spirit” of rules instituted by Democrats this year.
“The Republican complaints are valid,” said Craig Holman of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan congressional-watchdog group. “David Obey has deliberately sat on these earmarks, keeping them secretive.”
House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey says he will only allow earmarks — money designated for a special purpose or project and referred to as “pork-barrel” spending — to be inserted into the spending bills during Senate-House conferences when differences between measures passed in each chamber are resolved.
In previous years, earmarks were allowed while committees were drafting the dozen appropriations bills that make up the budget and on the House floor.
Mr. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said that with 36,000 requests for projects in spending bills, the old process of handling earmarks would result in a lengthy and unwieldy backlog.
“Last year, the Republican-led House ended the year with nine of 11 appropriations bills uncompleted, and left the Democrats with their mess to clean up,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. “We didn’t get those bills passed until earlier this year.”
Mr. Obey said no earmarks will be accepted without its sponsor identified. He said any lawmaker can question or challenge any request and, he said, the earmark’s sponsor will be asked to respond.
“They’ll be hanging out there for 30 days” of public scrutiny while Congress is on its summer break, he said.
But Republicans said the option to challenge the earmarks wasn’t useful.
“It sounds like Mr. Obey has created a complaints department, not an open and deliberative process that guarantees accountability for the American taxpayer,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner.
“Democrats are still making it easy to hide wasteful spending from the American people and making a mockery of their pledge to make the appropriations process more open and transparent,” he said.
“The Republicans ought to be able to embarrass the Democrats a great deal in this process,” he said.
Although the House Republican leadership has not publicly announced their strategy, several Republican lawmakers have told The Washington Times that they’ll oppose the earmarks through amendments and by raising public awareness both in news media appearances and speeches on the House floor.