- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Participating in a spending binge that culminated in thousands of pork-barrel projects earmarked specifically for their own districts, members of Congress from both parties were very bad boys and girls this year. Voters were so upset with the GOP-controlled Congress that they ousted dozens of Republicans in the November elections and turned control of both chambers over to Democrats. In the spirit of the holiday season, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the congressional appropriations committees — Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin — recently delivered well-deserved lumps of coal to their colleagues. The coal came in the form of the elimination of earmarks contained in unpassed appropriation bills for fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1.

After the lame-duck Congress adjourned following its failure to pass nine of the 11 annual appropriations bills, Messrs. Byrd and Obey announced that “[t]here will be no congressional earmarks in the [forthcoming] joint funding resolution.” Early next year, the two chairmen intend to shepherd a final stopgap spending measure through the 110th Congress authorizing funds for the balance of the 2007 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Messrs. Byrd and Obey said they “will place a moratorium on all earmarks until a reformed process is put in place.”

Sounding the horn of bipartisanship, President Bush hailed the development, observing Saturday that over the last decade, “the Congressional Research Service reports that the number of earmarks has exploded — increasing from about 3,000 in 1996 to 13,000 in 2006. He added: “I respect Congress’s authority over the public purse, but the time has come to reform the earmark process and dramatically reduce the number of earmarks.”

By choosing to pass a fourth (and ultimately final) continuing resolution instead of an omnibus spending bill, which would have lumped the nine appropriations bills — earmarks and all — into one massive legislative vehicle, Messrs. Byrd and Obey have essentially decided to limit domestic appropriations in fiscal 2007 to the levels that prevailed in 2006. (Congress did manage to pass fiscal 2007 appropriations bills for defense and homeland security, spending for which will increase accordingly.)

In their joint statement, Messrs. Byrd and Obey pledged to “do our best to make whatever limited adjustments are possible within the confines of the Republican budget to address the nation’s most important policy concerns.” If that means they intend to funnel this year’s earmark savings into community development block grants and other manifestations of Democratic pork, then the president will need to use his veto pen.

Moreover, while the incoming chairmen (neither of whom is exactly known for spending restraint) promise earmark reforms involving “transparency and accountability,” they also pointedly noted that “[e]armarks included in this year’s House and Senate bills will be eligible for consideration in the 2008 process.” Over the long term, President Bush’s commitment to propose a series of reforms that will also “help reduce the number of earmarks” is far more appealing.

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