Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dems Lift Limits on Earmark Requests

Roll Call ($) buries the lede when it waits until the penultimate paragraph to report that Appropriations Committee Chairman Obey has decided to lift the limit on the number of earmaks that Members of Congress may request. The bulk of the story is devoted to the extending of the deadline for submission of requests, due to the Ethics Committee's inability to provide guidance on a key question. That question is how to determine whether a Member of Congress would derive a 'benefit' from the funding of the request:

The bad news is Members will have to wait a bit longer before they get clear guidance on the issue. The good news is that to make up for the confusion, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) has agreed to extend the annual deadline to make changes in Member project requests to April 27. The original deadline was last Friday...

In a separate “Dear Colleague” letter to all House Members, Obey acknowledged concerns that House rules have not provided enough guidance on the new requirement for Members to file a disclosure form with each request certifying that neither they nor their spouse stand to benefit directly from the earmark.

The problem, Members said, is that there is no explicit definition of “benefit” or “financial interest” in the rules. For instance, a widely cited example is when Members make highway requests in their districts. Since Members live in their districts and could see the real estate value of their home rise as new roads are built, the line is blurred over whether such moves constitute a personal financial interest...

As for Appropriations, Obey also lifted the limitation on the number of earmark requests Members are allowed to ask for from each of the panel’s 12 subcommittees. He also reminded Members that all individual and group requests must be entered into the new database and be accompanied by a disclosure form. The only requests that do not need to comply with the new requirements are “programmatic” requests, meaning they are already included in the federal budget.

As far as I am aware, there is no clear summary of what the limit was on earmark requests. Roll Call previously noted that some of the subcommittees had limits; others did not. But if the Committee was seeking clarity and uniformity, it might have been nicer to set a limit that was binding on all subcommittees - or the full committee - as opposed to having no limits.

As a guideline, it would have been nice if Members had to trim their request lists to somewhere south of 70 items overall.

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