Any reasonable observer of our political system will tell you that the earmark process needs honest reform. From the notorious bridge to no where to money spent on various home district pet projects.
Still, while proven reformers like Representative Jeff Flake and Senator John McCain from Arizona lead the way, others try to mimic their actions for personal gain. There were two such instances here in Missouri this week.
Junior Senator Claire McCaskill started the process this week by making a call for "tougher pork barrel spending reform."
- Include all earmarks in the text of the bill. Congress has attempted in the past to crack down on adding earmarks to bill text during closed-door conference negotiations between the House of Representatives and the Senate, but in practice members continued to add earmarks by including them in the "statement of managers" (a document attached to the bill that is not technically part of the text and therefore not subject to the rules). McCaskill's bill would close this loophole by requiring that all earmarks appear in the bill's actual language, rather than in a statement of managers.
- All authorization bills must comply with the same earmark requirements as appropriations bills. Both appropriations bills and authorization bills frequently include earmarks, but currently only appropriations bills are subject to the most stringent earmark rules. McCaskill's legislation would ensure that authorization bills are subject to the same rules as appropriation bills.
- All earmark requests must be made public on the internet within 48 hours. Under the McCaskill bill, senators must post on their website all their earmark requests - not just those that actually make it into appropriations and authorization bills - within 48 hours of submitting them to committees. Committees must also post these requests within 48 hours.
- All appropriation and authorization conference reports must be electronically searchable. Although bills are required to be electronically searchable before they reach the Senate floor, there is a loophole that allows bills emerging from House-Senate conference negotiations to forego this step. McCaskill's legislation would fix this loophole by explicitly requiring that all appropriations and authorization conference reports be electronically searchable at least 48 hours before they are considered by the full Senate.
- Eliminate earmarks for private companies and non-profit organizations. Private companies currently receive billions of dollars in earmarks, bypassing the competitive bidding process. Congressional offices simply do not have the capacity to conduct objective, cost-benefit and merit-based analyses of the private companies and non-profit organizations requesting earmarks each year.
These points sound good until one digs into what happens in Washington, then its a completely different story in which find the proposal either duplicates existing policies or does more harm than good.
Democrats proved with the passage of the stimulus bill (aka porkulus) such rules simply do not matter as unrelated projects are tucked skillfully into places which most of our legislators or their staff never got the chance to read.
Similarly, the blanket exclusion of earmarks for private and not for profit organizations in the name of "competitive bidding" could cripple local or state organizations and or one time projects which can be vital to a community while entrenching established bureaucracies.
In the end the only true advantage of the proposal is to give Democrats political cover and perpetuate an on going media generated myth regarding their budget record in Congress.
Not to be out done, former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman decided to chide Congressman Roy Blunt and Republicans for praising Senator Bond for fighting for Missouri in Congress while labeling the process and most Republicans in the process as "corrupt."
Steelman, who seemingly is more interested in getting even with Roy Blunt and other Republicans who endorsed her primary opponent last year, lashed out against a series of questions posed toward Democrat Senate candidate Robin Carnahan.
The implication filters down to the Republican State Committee not supporting wasteful spending and earmarks being evil - and by extension those who are currently in office (with a focus on the Roy Blut, Kitt Bond) being corrupt.
Steelman is correct that Missourians do not support inefficient and wasteful spending. However, she could not be more wrong regarding the lack of accountability or what her apparent targets do in Congress.
To be sure, Blunt and Bond are not perfect.
I would mark 2002 as a low point for Roy Blunt specifically with his insertion of tabacco interests into legislation and massive spending votes. This was wrong, as was the increased levels of pork which as whip he helped pass. This is not an accurate picture of where Roy Blunt is or his entire legislative list of accomplishments, though.
Since then Roy Blunt recanted and rebuked past budget votes and committed him self to earmark transparency and budget reform. In fact he championed many "clean" defense and various budget bills which never allowed a vote because of rules put in place by Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Of those earmarks Roy did submit, all are listed in plain speaking on his Congressional website.
Outside of defense spending earmarks which certainly are debatable, the list is filled with financial requests for first responders, schools, much needed highway maintenance and the White River Basin project.
For fiscal year 2008 the list includes money for local reading programs, law enforcement, schools and "Crisis Nursery of the Ozarks" - a battered women's shelter.
My question would be to both Steelman and McCaskill which of these earmarks are unethical? Which represents irresponsible government spending?
Niether McCaskill or Steelman offer real reform. Neither one offer any real reform beyond lip service and media wagging rhetoric.
America needs real earmark reform which serves our needs but takes as much political preference out as possible.
It is apparent to this political observer that both are unaware of the earmarks being requested and simply want to gain positive media experiences to further their own careers.
Such demagoguery must stop.