Sunday, December 24, 2006

Remember those nasty earmarks?

Remember the Democrats bold pledge of "no earmarks" in spending bills?

Well, as it turns out, nothing changes.

All of the recurring earmarks will stay in the spending bills, but will be no NEW earmarks-

From the New York Times

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 — The Democrats taking over the Congressional appropriations committees next year have boldly pledged to place a moratorium on earmarks, the pet spending items that individual lawmakers insert into major spending bills behind the scenes.

But like much resolute talk in the Capitol, the declaration may not have the sweeping effect that the plan’s backers have suggested and its critics have denounced. Although earmarks figured prominently in some recent Congressional bribery scandals, they have also become cherished instruments of political power, used by party leaders to reward or punish members and by incumbents to buy good will among their constituents.

So the Congressional reaction was swift and vigorous when the two new appropriations chairmen, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, said in a joint statement that “there will be no Congressional earmarks” in the resolution they draft to bridge over the unfinished spending bills for the 2007 fiscal year, declaring “a moratorium on all earmarks until a reformed process is put in place.”

Lawmakers told constituents their projects could be decimated. “Terrible,” “unprecedented” and “unacceptable,” said a statement from Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico.

But the scope of the declared moratorium may be far more limited than it sounds. For one thing, the Democrats have not said they will delete financing for earmarks that lawmakers included in spending bills for the 2006 fiscal year and hoped to renew for 2007, a category that may include the majority of earmarks.

Instead, what the Democrats will omit is the long explanations usually appended to each spending bill to instruct federal agencies how to spend the money. Their resolution will include only total numbers for each agency, without the instructions.

The result will make it hard for members of Congress to ensure passage of a first-time earmark like the $500,000 to help expand the Peoria zoo that was inserted into a spending bill by Representative Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois. Mr. LaHood and other Republicans have complained most loudly about the plan, accusing Democrats of ignoring local needs.

But many if not most earmarks are recurring items, like money for a university research program or a public works project that Congressional sponsors insert each year. No Democrats have suggested any plan to cut or redirect that money.


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