Friday, December 22, 2006

So Much for Earmark Reform...

And so the hope that the incoming Democratic majority would be 'better' than the Republican majority on earmark reform goes up in smoke. The New York Times reports that the House Democratic Leadership is helping the vulnerable incoming Freshman Democratic class with key committee assigments:

The 110th Congress has not even been sworn into office. But in a measure of the determination not to surrender the majority in two years, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive speaker, has instructed aides to begin acting immediately to help Democrats who won by small margins in districts where President Bush did well in 2004 or who coasted in because their opponents were mired by controversy. Those new members are methodically being given coveted spots on high-profile committees, in particular the Financial Services Committee, a magnet for campaign contributions, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a platform from which to send money for projects back home.

Apart from generally putting the lie to Democratic promises to change the culture in Washington, it demonstrates that Democrats are perfectly happy to accept earmarks for political gain. And if vulnerable Freshmen are going to be the beneficiaries of earmarks, you can bet they won't be the only ones. Veteran Democrats will insist on equal treatment.

And for those not familiar with Congressional rules, transportation earmarks are generally not subject to the appropriations process. That is, while almost all Congressional authorizations for spending must subsequently be approved in an appropriations bill, most transportation spending is done in the form of direct obligation, meaning that it only needs to be in the transportation bill for the money to be spent. As a result, reform of earmarks in appropriations bills has no effect on transportation earmarks.

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