- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

House Democrats yesterday rejected a Republican bid to halt pork-barrel spending and set up a panel to write more earmark reform measures.

Republicans, eager to reclaim the party’s reputation for fiscal responsibility and turn the pork-spending issue against Democrats, used a procedural move to force the vote on the earmark-reform bill.

“House Republicans are deeply disappointed the speaker [Nancy Pelosi of California] and her Democratic colleagues have refused to join us in supporting an immediate moratorium on all earmarks,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Wasteful pork-barrel earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington.”

Democrats blocked the measure in a 204-196 vote that split closely along party lines, prompting Republican charges that Democrats are soft on reforming earmarks, the process by which members slip pet projects into spending bills.

The vote to bring up the bill garnered support from 189 Republicans and seven Democrats. No Republicans voted to reject the measure.

Democrats, who passed some earmark reforms last year, said Republicans abused the earmark process for the dozen years they ran Congress and were now touting the issue solely for political gain.

“For the Republican Party leadership to belatedly give us lectures on earmarks is, in my view, akin to reformed alcoholics giving lectures on temperance,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “The previous Republican leadership was notorious for using earmarks as enticements in order to get their membership to vote for bills that individuals may otherwise not be inclined to vote for.”

Republicans are expected to continue to make earmark reform an issue this session in the Democrat-led Congress and this year on the campaign trail.

Republican strategists said freshmen House Democrats are vulnerable to charges they broke 2006 campaign promises to fight pork-barrel spending as a result of Democratic leaders’ resistance to new reform measures.

“They talked a big game in 2006, but now Democrats have become quite adept at playing the Washington parlor game of backroom dealing,” a Republican Party official said. “This will catch up with them on the campaign trail.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she is open to ideas to improve the earmark system. But she stood by the reforms adopted last year by the Democrat-led Congress, requiring members to attach their names to their earmarks and reducing the amount of earmarks to $13 billion, half the amount in 2006 and the lowest level since 2000.

Democrats point out that under Republican rule, pork spending jumped from $12 billion in 1999 to $29 billion in 2006.

A Republican leadership aide noted that 20 Democrats did not vote on the measure yesterday, a sign that the issue troubles the caucus. Nine Republicans did not vote.

President Bush last week signed an executive order aiming to curb earmarks in the federal budget. The order won’t take effect until the 2009 budget is passed later this year.

Democrats dismissed Mr. Bush’s action as meaningless political posturing and called it hypocritical because they said he did not challenge earmarks when Republicans controlled Congress earlier in his presidency.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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