John Fund on Pork Barrel Spending

This is from today's OpinionJournal.com's Political Diary:

House Republicans scored a surprising victory yesterday by forcing Democrats to back down from their plans to gut the few constraints on Congress's ability to slip earmarks, or "pork barrel" projects for individual members, into legislation.

Even some Democrats were stunned earlier this month when House Appropriations Chairman David Obey unilaterally decreed that pork projects would henceforth be "airdropped" into conference reports once appropriations bills pass the House and Senate. By circumventing rules designed to allow earmarks to be challenged on the House floor as bills come up, House Democrats were setting "a new standard for secrecy and subterfuge," complained Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, the chief earmark scourge of Capitol Hill. . . . .

Brendan Miniter adds this interesting insight:

Last night's Democratic retreat on earmarks was no doubt partly due to a letter Nancy Pelosi wrote a year ago to then-newly elected GOP Majority Leader John Boehner urging serious spending reform, including an "end to secret earmarks." Mr. Boehner followed her advice and helped rewrite House rules to make it easier to spotlight and remove earmarks that Members were using to direct secret pork-barrel spending back to their districts.

That letter came back to haunt Ms. Pelosi as her new Democratic House gutted these reforms and was getting ready this week to pass eleven spending bills to fund the government in the forthcoming fiscal year -- and, oh, also slip an estimated 32,000 earmarks into law. Under a new rule enacted last month, Appropriations Chairman David Obey would have been able to certify a particular bill "earmark free" even if it's full of pork-barrel special projects. Another rule barred members from objecting to a particular earmark on the House floor if it's part of a larger bill that itself contains a list of its earmarks. This applied even if the list is inaccurate and even if the earmark in question is not on the list. (The same rule recently enabled Rep. John Murtha, chairman of a defense appropriations subcommittee, to quash a Republican attempt to stop spending on an unneeded "drug intelligence" center in his district.) . . . .



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