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.
Mr. Holman said that Mr. Obey is not technically violating any of the new rules passed by the Democratic majority but that "it certainly violates the spirit" of those rules.
"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.
"We're going to use every single moment we can on the floor to hold them accountable and stall this process," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican. "It's about the biggest piece of hypocrisy I've seen in this place in months."
In addition, Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman concerning Mr. Obey's move.
"As bad as the earmark issue has been, and it was bad under Republicans, this would make it even worse," Mr. Flake said yesterday.
Mr. Flake said some options available to Republicans include motions to adjourn and challenges to earmarks in principle, "whether we know if they're in the bill or not." Nonetheless, Mr. Flake said the use of so-called secret earmarks "is not a good development."
"Both sides are hooked on earmarks, badly," he said.
The House is scheduled to vote today on the $36 billion Homeland Security appropriations bill for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1. Votes are scheduled tomorrow for spending bills for military construction and veterans affairs, energy and water appropriations, and the interior and the environment.