- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday announced new temporary rules for tracking pork-barrel spending, responding to Republican calls for the disclosure of special-interest projects tucked into bills.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia said his committee will begin disclosing “earmarks” — often called pork-barrel spending — included in appropriation bills until the Senate passes its proposed ethics- and earmarks-reform legislation.

“The changes that we are making in the appropriations process will help restore confidence in the Congress,” Mr. Byrd said. “We are ending ‘business as usual’ in Washington.”

Republicans immediately called Mr. Byrd’s policy change “toothless” because it’s nonbinding.

“If it’s not a rule, then we have no authority to call them to account,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican. “Where’s the transparency, and ultimately the responsibility?”

Republicans also say that the new rules aren’t extended to authorization bills, such as those relating to highway funding and projects by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The new rules require all earmarks to be clearly identified in documents accompanying appropriations bills. The new policy will require senators to identify all earmarks they submit, including the amount, recipient and purpose of the earmark.

The new rules are similar to those passed by the Senate in January as part of an ethics-reform bill that has yet to pass the House. The annual appropriations process begins next month, but Senate Democrats had given no indication they would require changes to the earmarking process absent action on the ethics bill.

Mr. Coburn and Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, led the push to make the earmark-disclosure measure into law.

“Once again, when faced with media scrutiny, Democrats finally budged on earmark reform,” Mr. DeMint said. “This rhetoric is unenforceable and doesn’t cover all earmarks.”

Mr. DeMint yesterday tried and failed to force an unanimous-consent vote on the Senate floor for the immediate disclosure of all earmarks.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who voted against Mr. DeMint’s resolution, said it was inappropriate for the Republicans to “pick apart” the ethics bill before the Senate had the opportunity to conference with the House on drafting a final list of ethics rules.

“If the senator from South Carolina has his way, we’d take one piece today, someone would suggest taking another piece tomorrow, and ultimately I think it would dilute our effort to work with the House to pass this measure,” Mr. Durbin said.

But with the Senate’s earmark reforms stalled in the House, Mr. DeMint said he worries that passage of a comprehensive earmark law this year could be doomed.

“If the Senate is serious, it would put teeth behind these rules and enact them immediately,” he said.

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