- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

In the 1994 elections, Republicans captured control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 42 years. When the newly installed GOP Congress passed its spending bills for fiscal 1996, which began Oct. 1, 1995, the defense appropriations bill included 270 earmarks totaling $2.8 billion, according to a tally by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently cited by USA Today. Ten years later, for fiscal 2006, the GOP-controlled Congress approved a defense appropriations bill containing 2,847 earmarks totaling $9.4 billion, according to CRS figures. Thus, during a decade of virtually uninterrupted GOP congressional dominance, the number of defense earmarks increased by nearly 1,000 percent and their monetary value soared by nearly 250 percent.

After former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham pleaded guilty last December to accepting bribes from defense contractors in exchange for directing millions of dollars in business their way, Republican congressional leaders promised wholesale reform of the earmark process, whereby lawmakers steer taxpayer funds to specific projects or contractors. Altogether, the CRS study calculated that spending earmarks totaled $67 billion for the current fiscal year, reflecting a $15 billion increase over fiscal 2005.

Last week, by a 245-171 vote, the House passed a bare-minimum, loophole-laden rule that begins to address spending earmarks and barely considers earmarked special-interest tax breaks. The new rule will require the disclosure of spending earmarks (and their sponsors) that are inserted into future appropriations bills either in House committees or in conference committees with the Senate. The rule, which will expire at the end of this Congress (subject to renewal at the beginning of the next Congress), will effectively apply to only one appropriations bill this year. Because the rule is not retroactive, it will not apply to the 12 appropriations bills the House has already passed this year. “We’d be here until Christmas” if earmarks and their sponsors had to be disclosed for the defense spending bill, said Florida Rep. C.W. Bill Young, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, according to CQ Weekly.

Regrettably, on the revenue front, the new earmarking rules apply only to tax breaks that are granted to a single individual or entity. Thus, if an enterprising representative devised a future tax break that applied only to the recently announced blockbuster oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico, the hypothetical tax benefit would not be considered a tax earmark (and would not be disclosed as such) because the three to 15 billion barrels of oil in question are jointly owned by Chevron and two partners. Go figure.

The House rule will not apply to the Senate, which is unlikely to meet even the House’s minimal earmark-transparency standard this year.

The explosion of spending earmarks since Republicans gained control of Congress is truly bothersome. But it is not the source of spending that causes “our nation’s bleak long-term fiscal outlook,” which the Government Accountability Office once again confirmed this month. “The spending that drives the outlook is primarily spending on the large federal entitlement programs (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid),” the GAO reported in its September update, whose conclusion was bluntly stated: “The Bottom Line: Today’s Fiscal Policy Remains Unsustainable.” The tiny step the House took last week toward earmark reform did nothing to address the huge fiscal problems caused by the giant entitlement programs.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide