- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner was joined by hundreds of fiscal-conservative activists yesterday in presenting a congressional petition calling for full transparency and debate over all spending bills that contain earmarks.

“No more earmarks, no more pork,” shouted the estimated 300 activists.

The Ohio Republican addressed the crowd, who had gathered from 36 states to attend a conference hosted by Americans for Prosperity, a pro-market Washington think tank.

The petition was signed by 196 Republicans, but no Democrats. It needs the signatures of 22 more lawmakers to force a vote on the House floor. Republicans are hopeful that “Blue Dog” Democrats, who hail from more conservative districts, will sign the petition.

The Democrat-led Congress passed legislation earlier this year adding transparency to earmarks in appropriations bills, but not other spending bills.

Critics call earmarks wasteful pork-barrel projects that benefit home-district special interests.

“Earmarks should be disclosed and debated before they become law,” Mr. Boehner said. “This is not a partisan issue.”

Despite his attempts to portray the fight as being above the political fray, it was another step in an ongoing effort by Republican lawmakers to “rebrand” themselves as fiscal conservatives.

“The message to Congress is crystal-clear,” Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said. “End earmarks and end them right.”

Mr. Boehner, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and other Republican leaders said their party “lost their way” with conservative voters after years of increased federal spending and earmarks.

Before Republicans lost control of Congress in elections last year, Mr. Boehner pushed through a series of earmark reforms that House Democrats largely rejected. Democrats said it is hypocritical for Republicans to claim fiscal conservatism after increasing the national debt while in power.

Nonetheless, Mr. Boehner’s office said he retains significant credibility on the issue within his party. He has never personally requested an earmark and has been outspoken in his opposition to them since first running for Congress, a senior aide said.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said greater transparency of earmark spending would make lawmakers less willing to make such requests.

“The goal is fewer earmarks,” he said. “If you debate them openly, there will be fewer earmarks.”

After the rally, Republican aides distributed remarks from Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, calling for complete earmark transparency.

“You can’t just have earmarks viewed on the appropriations bill unless you take up earmarks in tax bills and earmarks in authorization bills,” Mrs. Pelosi said in September 2006. “But if you are going to have earmarks and you are going to have transparency, you have to do it in the appropriations bill and in the tax bill and in the authorization bill. I would put it in writing.”

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