Skip to Main Content

Earmarks, Earmarks, Earmarks!

"On Thursday, March 22, 2007, members of the House of Representatives started their debate on an “emergency supplemental” to pay for the troop surge and other war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, the controversy over the war in Iraq is not the only issue. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have added $21.3 billion to the cost of the $103 billion already requested by President George W. Bush.

That much added on to the bill should raise suspicions that Congress’ porkers have been at work adding what they euphemistically call “earmarks.” But, Obey’s committee report that explains the bill contains the following statement on Page 238: “EARMARKS: Pursuant to clause 9 of rule XXI of the Rules of the House of Representatives, this bill, as reported, contains no congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits as defined in clause 9(d), 9(e), or 9(f) of rule XXI.”

On close inspection, that assertion simply does not stand up. On Page 291 of the report, the Appropriation Committee added $25 million added for spinach producers. On Page 216, the committee added $60 million for salmon fisheries. And, on Page 214, they added $5 million for aquaculture. Other sections of the report appear to contain many more.

These are earmarks by any meaningful definition of the term. I should know, I worked as an integral part of the congressional pork system for most of the 31 years I was on Capitol Hill. The advocates of this pork will argue these earmarks are all desperately needed, and perhaps they are, but that doesn’t mean they are not earmarks. In fact, because they are “emergency earmarks,” they have an “emergency” designation, which exempts them from budget controls.

In a Nov. 14, 2006 commentary in the Christian Science Monitor, Pelosi wrote that, “We pledge to make this the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history.” I hope she will start soon. I say so also because her previous “reforms” to control, if not eliminate, earmarks are a sham, which I attempt to explain in my Politico commentary.

“The Devil Wears Earmarks,” was first published by Politico on March 21, 2007.

The Devil Wears Earmarks

By Winslow T. Wheeler

Democratic congressional majorities claim to be reforming the misbehavior that flourished under the previous—and deservedly extinct—Republican domination of Capitol Hill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised ""the most ethical Congress ever."" One abuse being addressed is ""earmarking""—the practice of pandering to constituent favor and vested interests with special projects injected into spending bills—also known as ""pork."" Based on press coverage, it would seem that Pelosi and her party have, at a minimum, made an honest effort to deliver on their promise.

It would be nice if that were true, but it is not.

I spent more than 30 years working on Capitol Hill, many of them spent as an integral part of the congressional pork factory, grubbing for morsels for the Democratic and Republican senators who employed me.

I saw at close hand how immediately after the Sept. 11 terror attacks the Senate dramatically increased the pork in defense spending bills. I also observed how the Senate's self-proclaimed ""pork-buster,"" John McCain (R-Ariz.), sat on his parliamentary hands as other senators raided Pentagon accounts for combat training, weapon repairs and other war essentials to pay for the pork. I have been eager to witness the end to—or even a reduction of—this atrocious system. Given what the Democrats have done so far this year, I'm going to have to wait some more.

Here's what they've done.

House Resolution 6, Pelosi's ballyhooed measure to reform earmarking and other abuses, permits any spending bill to be ruled ""out of order"" in the House (and therefore dead) unless it is accompanied by a list of all earmarks in the bill and its associated legislative materials. The identity of each earmark's congressional sponsor must be displayed along with ""the name and address of the intended recipient"" or ""the intended location"" of the earmark, its purpose and a certification that no member of Congress, or spouse, has any financial interest in the earmark. In other words, the reform seeks to shed sunshine on earmarks.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

The sunshine this measure sheds is more deceptive than illuminating. That's because each earmark description, and all the associated information, is to be supplied not by an objective entity, but by the earmark's congressional sponsor. In other words, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) will be allowed to explain without fear of contradiction why his brown tree snake eradication program should be added to the defense budget. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) can articulate every reason the Boeing Co. has fed him for why another four-star general needs a new VIP aircraft.

Inouye will not be required to explain that his snake eradication program really belongs in a domestic spending bill (if any objective auditor were to determine it is an effective program), and Murtha will not be required to divulge that he, along with other members of Congress, can also fly in that fancy new executive jet.

These lawmakers—and all other congressional porkers—would be crazy not to comply with the new ""anti-pork"" reforms. They are nothing less than free advertising.

There's more. The second step in the Democrats' earmarking reform occurs in the first appropriations bill they passed in the House after coming to power. This measure is the ""continuing resolution"" to fund most of the government for the current fiscal year. Last year, in a shameless abdication of responsibility, the Republicans failed to enact appropriations for any federal agency except the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Instead, they put the rest of the government onto ""stopgap"" spending. The Democrats quite sensibly—and rather quickly—put together the continuing resolution. They even added a special provision, Section 112, which they said explicitly eliminates earmarks.

The devil, however, is in the details. What they eliminated with one hand they restored with the other. For example, Section 20203 (2) of the measure that ""explicitly eliminates earmarks"" added three earmarks to the defense budget: $217.5 million for three research projects for breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. That's right, cancer research in the defense budget. Democrats and Republicans have been plugging nondefense cancer research earmarks into Pentagon spending for years; 2007 is no exception.

Worse, the Democrats' continuing resolution failed to do anything about the earmarks they and the Republicans added last September to the 2007 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, now in effect. This statute contains thousands of earmarks costing several billion dollars. The money to pay for them is not added to increase the spending in the bill; instead, and as usual, Congress raided training, weapons maintenance and other accounts to pay for the lawmakers' pork. None of that is undone.

On close inspection, the continuing resolution's ""elimination"" of earmarks has a strange ring to it. It says that all earmarks in 2006 appropriations measures ""shall have no legal effect"" for the new 2007 bill. That's a strange way to eliminate spending. Why not simply remove the funding, thereby making the earmark physically impossible to continue into fiscal 2007?

Moreover, because most earmarks simply are mere lines in committee reports and have ""no legal effect"" to begin with, they are enforced by the retribution that legislators can impose on agencies reluctant to follow their ""friendly advice"" on how money should be spent.

The impenetrable language in the continuing resolution raises questions about how many members of Congress are quietly contacting federal agencies and offering more ""friendly advice"" on how to spend the money made available for projects for which there is no—strictly speaking—""legal"" requirement, but which the Appropriations Committee explicitly endorsed.

The Democrats' new reforms to eliminate earmarks do no such thing. They provide free advertising for congressional porkers, permit thousands of earmarks in 2007 Pentagon spending, add a few new ones and talk around the continuation of last year's earmarks in nondefense agencies' budgets into the new year.

This isn't just a few typical congressional loopholes in a bill—it's an insult to Swiss cheese."

Tags: Pork

Winslow Wheeler, Director, Straus Military Reform Project, Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight

By: Winslow Wheeler
Director, Straus Military Reform Project, CDI at POGO, POGO

Mr. Wheeler's areas of expertise include Congress, the Defense Budget, National Security, Pentagon Reform and Weapons Systems

The goal of the Straus Military Reform Project is to secure far more effective military forces and much more ethical and professional military and civilian leadership at significantly lower budget levels.

We would like to thank Philip A. Straus Jr. and family for their generous support.

Leave A Comment

Nickname
Comment
Enter this word: Change