- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Capitol Hill Republicans say Democrats have done little to cull “earmarks,” or pet projects, from legislation, despite Democratic assertions the party has instituted sweeping reforms to the process.

Democratic leaders have used the congressional August recess to tout new rules requiring earmarks to be fully described and their sponsor identified.

Members of Congress who sponsor earmarks also now must certify that they have no personal financial interest in them.

“These reforms should end the abuses we saw in Congress over the past years” wrote Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, in an opinion piece published Friday in the New York Times.

“The old earmark process empowered the special interests. Now, in the space of a few months, the new Democratic Congress has taken earmarks out of the shadows.”

But House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Emanuel’s assertion that new Democratic rules have resulted in a more open and transparent earmark process is “simply false.”

Mr. Boehner said new rules adopted by House Democrats prohibit lawmakers from forcing a debate and vote on individual earmarks contained in authorizing and tax bills brought to the chamber floor.

“Tax and authorizing bills have been vehicles for some of the most indefensible earmarks produced by Congress, under both Democrats and Republicans,” wrote Mr. Boehner in a piece that appeared Saturday on the National Review’s online edition.

House Republicans in June blocked a Democratic proposal to allow earmarks in spending bills 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.

Many Republicans say the only way to reform the earmark process is to eliminate the practice.

“Congress has proven time and time again that it is incapable of policing itself,” said Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and longtime advocate of eliminating earmarks.

The debate over earmarks is expected to intensify in the coming as weeks, as the Senate debates several spending bills for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.

Mr. Boehner said Democrats also are going back on their word to eliminate earmarks, citing comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, last year that earmarks should be abolished.

Democratic leaders said they never promised to eliminate earmarks but rather only to reform the process in which they’re inserted into bills.

“Putting all earmarks in the same boat, as critics often do, distorts the debate and does a disservice to the public,” Mr. Emanuel said. “Not all earmarks are equal.”

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said many earmarks are necessary, as long as the process is made public.

“I totally disagree with people in Congress who say we ought to get rid of earmarks,” Mr. Clyburn said. “When [constituents] come to see you looking for help, and you say, ‘well, I’ve got to wait to see if the president is going to put that in his budget request’ … that’s kind of silly to me.”

A spokesman for Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican and an advocate of earmark reform, said while Mr. Clyburn’s position “sounds good in theory,” the earmark system is the wrong way to fund worthwhile projects.

“It’s not that some projects are not meritorious, but why do they have to be funded through a system that is inherently corrupting and prone to favoritism and to waste,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said.

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