Touted as an­ti­dote to grid­lock

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid said Tues­day that ear­marks should be put back on the ta­ble as a tool for Congress, be­com­ing the lat­est voice in a grow­ing cho­rus to re­turn to the days when pork­bar­rel spend­ing dom­i­nated the an­nual ap­pro­pri­a­tions process.

“I have been a fan of ear­marks since I got here the first day,” Mr. Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, told re­porters. “Keep in mind, that’s what the coun­try has done for more than 200 years, ex­cept for the brief pe­riod of time in re­cent years that we haven’t done these.”

He and other sup­port­ers said ear­marks were part of the founders’ vi­sion of govern­ment and that they served to help get bills passed, mak­ing them an at­trac­tive an­ti­dote to the grid­lock in Congress over the past four years.

The nos­tal­gia has ear­mark op­po­nents wor­ried.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can and the top wastew­atcher in Congress, cir­cu­lated a let­ter last week with Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Demo­crat, ask­ing col­leagues to pledge to stand by the ear­mark ban.

“We rec­og­nize there are a wide range of views on this sub­ject in our cau­cuses but we be­lieve it is im­por­tant to reaf­firm our sup­port for this pol­icy,” the let­ter said. “Congress has am­ple flex­i­bil­ity to ex­er­cise its power of the purse and rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of our con­stituents with­out us­ing ear­marks.”

As of Tues­day, only nine other se­na­tors had signed the let­ter.

Ear­marks were leg­isla­tive add-ons to di­rect money to spe­cial projects in law­mak­ers’ home states. These projects, which in­cluded park­ing garages, bike trails and con­tracts for de­fense con­trac­tors, of­ten were listed in a re­port with scant re­view.

At their height, when Repub­li­cans con­trolled Congress in 2005 and 2006, ear­marks to­taled more than $30 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to some cal­cu­la­tions.

Democrats im­posed trans­parency re­quire­ments and re­stric­tions when they took con­trol of Congress in 2007. The prac­tice ended al­to­gether when Repub­li­cans re­took con­trol of the House in 2011 and John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, was elected as speaker.

Se­nate Democrats were forced to fol­low Mr. Boehner’s mora­to­rium.

Restora­tion of ear­marks is un­likely in the near term, par­tic­u­larly as long as Mr. Boehner re­mains speaker.

Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky, who would be in line to lead the Se­nate if Repub­li­cans win con­trol of the cham­ber in November, is op­posed to restor­ing ear­marks, a spokesman said. Asked whether Mr. McCon­nell agreed with Mr. Reid that it was time to re­think the ban, his spokesman flatly said, “No.”

The pub­lic be­gan to sour on ear­marks af­ter mam­moth boon­dog­gles such as the “bridge to nowhere,” which would have sent more than $300 mil­lion in tax­pay­ers’ money to build a bridge to an Alaska is­land so res­i­dents could get to an air­port with­out hav­ing to use a ferry ser­vice. The project ul­ti­mately was can­celed, but it be­came a sym­bol of ru­n­away pork-bar­rel spend­ing.

Now, nearly four years into the mora­to­rium, a back­lash is de­vel­op­ing.

Na­tional Jour­nal re­ported that some Repub­li­cans are cam­paign­ing in fa­vor of pork in Mis­sis­sippi.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat and Mr. Reid’s deputy, has lob­bied the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­verse its op­po­si­tion.

Pres­i­dent Obama helped end ear­marks in his first term, pig­gy­back­ing on House Repub­li­cans’ mora­to­rium by say­ing he would veto any bill that in­cluded pork projects.

Mr. Reid re­sponded by say­ing, “I dis­agree, un­der­line, un­der­score, big ex­cla­ma­tion marks, with Obama on ear­marks. He’s wrong.”

Ear­mark sup­port­ers said it could be dif­fi­cult to get a trans­porta­tion bill passed with­out ear­marks. In the past, con­gres­sional lead­ers of­fered law­mak­ers pots of money for projects in their home states in ex­change for votes on broad bills.

Thomas A. Schatz, pres­i­dent of Cit­i­zens Against Govern­ment Waste, said us­ing pork for deal­mak­ing led to bad law­mak­ing.

“These bills end up be­ing more ex­pen­sive be­cause mem­bers will get a few mil­lion in ear­marks and then vote for hun­dreds of bil­lions in spend­ing, in ex­change for mil­lions in pork,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.