December 13, 2010

December 13, 2010 | Commentary on Earmarks, Budget and Spending

Earmarkers Gone Wild

Boehner Starts to Implement Pledge

One jeer and one cheer for two changes lawmakers made last week to the rules of the House: The Speaker declared “Martial Law,” and House Republicans followed through on their promise to make the chamber more transparent and responsive to the will of back-benchers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) forced through a change to waive a one-day transparency requirement before bills are considered by the House. This gives the Speaker authority to bring up bills with no notice before a vote of the full House. Neither hearing nor debate is required before Pelosi forces a vote on controversial issues. This new rule cuts the American people out of the legislative process.

By contrast, Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) helped to pass some internal rules of the House Republican Conference that will provide more openness and greater opportunity for back-bench members to participate more significantly in the legislative process.

One great idea was the adoption of new “Cut-Go” rules to stop the proliferation of new government programs and spending. This rule prohibits the use of the Suspension Calendar, a procedure that requires a two-thirds vote of the House, that prohibits the creation of new programs, unless a program of equal or greater size is reduced. The new rule also prohibits the use of the Suspension Calendar that increases authorizations, appropriations or direct spending unless offset by cuts to other programs.

In addition to the “Cut-Go” rule, the Conference implemented new transparency requirements that will allow the American people a greater window into the legislative process. Conservatives would love to see these much-needed reforms passed as part of the House-wide rules early next year.

Earmarkers Gone Wild

Taxpayers Against Earmarks, Taxpayers for Common Sense and WashingtonWatch.com have put out an excellent report chronicling the 39,249 earmarks requested by members of Congress this year. These earmark requests total up to more than $100 billion in spending. Some claim that earmarks don’t cost that much. But they ignore the fact that members have requested billions for pet projects -- and that it all adds up quickly.

Maine is a great case study to see what members are requesting. Taxpayers Against Earmarks reports that Sen. Susan Collins (R) requested $453,264,250 and Sen. Olympia Snow (R) requested $594,513,000 for this year alone. Sen. Collins requested $5,000,000 to build a pedestrian/bicycle bridge connecting Bayside to Portland. Not to be outdone, Sen. Snowe requested $7,000,000 for the University of Maine for a “Wood Utilization Program” to study “university-based wood utilization research.” None of these programs are a proper function of the federal government.

The Omnibus

Liberals in the Senate are planning one last ditch effort to get some earmarks and to keep spending high. Last week, the House passed a Continuing Resolution funding the government until Sept. 30, 2011. Appropriators in the Senate are teaming up to toss aside the CR and insert a massive Omnibus spending bill loaded with special projects.

This Omnibus has yet to be shared with senators and the American people. Senators don’t know what appropriators have put in this bill, yet appropriators are expected to roll this proposal out as a complete substitute to the CR on the Senate floor this week.

The House-passed bill caps spending at 2010 levels to the tune of $1.09 trillion. A food safety bill and some money for war operations has been added to this CR. The Omnibus has yet to see the light of day, but it is reportedly much bigger than the CR -- and it’s chock full of new spending.

Blue State Bailout Bonds

The agreement between the White House and congressional leaders reportedly prevents ends President Obama’s Build America Bonds (BABs). These are taxpayer-funded bonds that subsidizes the interest rate of state-issued bonds. They put off tough decisions for states that are in trouble, such as Illinois and California. Hopefully, this idea (created in the president’s stimulus plan) is not secretly added to the tax-compromise bill. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for irresponsible fiscal policy by state governments and municipalities.

Brian Darling is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

First appeared in Human Events