House Democratic leaders yesterday bowed to Republican pressure and abandoned their plan to permit the addition of “pork-barrel” projects to annual spending bills after the two chambers had voted on the measures.
The agreement will restore earmark reforms passed by the Republicans last September but will also place some restraints on the amount of debate time allowed for each appropriations bill. The agreement will allow floor votes on earmarks on 10 of the 12 annual appropriations bills that make up the federal budget.
“We are pleased that we have reached a way to go forward,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “All the earmarks will be subject to debate and challenge on the House floor.”
The Democrats had planned to allow earmarks only during the conference process, when a limited number of lawmakers from each chamber meet to hammer out differences between the bills passed, while barring them during committee hearings and on the floor.
Under current rules, earmarks must be made public while an appropriations bill is going through each chamber. Republicans complained that allowing earmarks to be added during conference undermines their “sunshine” reforms and they claimed victory last night.
“Democratic leaders finally surrendered to our demands because supporting secret earmarks in appropriations bills is indefensible and the American people won”t stand for it,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
“House Republicans worked together to demand an end to slush funds for secret earmarks and the right to challenge wasteful spending on the House floor — and we won,” Mr. Boehner said.
As a result of the compromise, several of the House appropriations bills will now be delayed until more than 32,000 requested earmarks can be publicly disclosed before coming to the House for a vote.
Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and House Appropriations Committee chairman, said some appropriations bills might not pass until after the July Fourth recess. “The best thing about this agreement is that it allows us to proceed forward,” he said.
The fight began when Mr. Obey decided to only allow earmarks during the conference process. Republicans had initially though a compromise had been reached the night before, but it nearly unraveled after Democrats raised objections over the amount of debate time Republican lawmakers spent objecting to spending provisions in the various appropriations bills.
Mr. Hoyer rejected Republican assertions that it was his party that had initially backed out of the compromise.
“We thought we had an agreement last night,” he said. “The minority leader had to tell us he couldn’t persuade his caucus on that score.”
“We are proceeding with the good faith of both” parties, Mr. Hoyer said.
Despite their minority status, Republicans this week used a series of procedural moves to stall the first of 12 spending bills to protest the Democrats’ decision to only permit earmarks in Conference Committee.