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PoliCon
09-10-2008, 12:00 AM
Democrats Return to the Pork Barrel

Democratic leaders pledged to rein in the practice of pork-barrel spending that had skyrocketed under the Republican majority and had spawned numerous criminal corruption investigations.

First, congressional Democrats pledged to clean up the pork-barrel process. While the ethics bill signed by President Bush contained some reforms, such as requiring the names of each earmark's congressional sponsor, lawmakers significantly weakened the rest of the bill, by:

* Removing a provision to ban the trading of pork projects for votes;
* Weakening provisions aimed at stopping pork projects that financially benefit lawmakers;
* Transferring Senate earmark enforcement powers from the neutral Senate parliamentarian to the partisan Senate Majority Leader;
* Permitting bills to be voted on without first disclosing pork projects; and
* Weakening a provision requiring that pork projects be made available on the Internet before congressional votes.[2]

That is not all. Reversing earlier pledges, Congress applied these new rules only to earmarks in appropriations bills and chose to ignore earmarks in tax, entitlement, or authorization bills.[3] Earlier this year, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wisconsin) announced his intention to keep secret the pork projects in spending bills until after the bills had passed the House; the ensuing public backlash forced him to back down. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently announced that it will no longer track pork projects at all. By and large, the Democratic majority has not sufficiently backed up their reform rhetoric.[4]

The Democrats' other pledge was to cut the number of pork projects in half, from the 2005 peak of 13,492 to 6,746. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the number of pork projects in the spending bills thus far totals 6,651 in the House and 4,700 in the Senate, respectively.[5] If lawmakers follow the typical practice of adding House and Senate earmarks together in conference committee, they will easily break their pledge.

Two other events stand out. Following the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) offered an amendment calling on the Senate to place a temporary moratorium on transportation pork until all structurally deficient bridges are repaired. Amazingly, the Senate voted 82-14 to prioritize pork over bridge repairs in the transportation budget.[6]

Then, the Department of Veterans Affairs proposed selling $4 billion worth of its valuable but vacant land in a super-wealthy area of west Los Angeles. This $4 billion could then have been used to provide additional medical care for America's veterans. However, this land is also surrounded by the Beverly Hills estates of individuals like Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Tim McGraw, and Barry Bonds. When locals reportedly complained that this development would, among other things, impede the views from their mansions, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) inserted an earmark to cancel the land sale. The Senate voted 66-25 to side with the Beverly Hills millionaires.[7]http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/wm1660.cfm

REMEMBER this when you hear a democrat talking about change.