Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No One Knows As Well As Republican Solons How Grievously Earmarks Can Be Abused


Jerry Lewis, whose term on the Appropriations Committee was the apex of earmark abuse, is campaigning for a relaxation of the rules so that he can become Appropriations Chair again... painting himself as an anti-earmarks crusader. His crony Ken Calvert was exposed as one of the most corrupt Members of Congress by Fox News because of his criminal use of earmarks to enrich himself personally... but he's also been transformed into an anti-earmark jihadi. Look at this tweet from yesterday morning:

If crooks like Lewis and Calvert are against earmarks now, it is no longer an option to be a Republican and back them. Just a few years ago Lewis was stomping his feet and lashing out in all directions at anyone who suggested tanking earmarks. He is thought to have-- along with Boehner-- punished Arizona anti-earmark crusader Jeff Flake for refusing to shit up about it. Now Boehner is rushing to reinstate Flake on the Appropriations Committee that he kicked him off a few years ago. At that time, Lewis was bragging to his home town newspaper how he was the earmark king.
"One of our jobs is to help California and my district get as much of their money back as possible," Lewis said.

Earmarks, which have increased more than threefold in the past decade, are special projects inserted into federal legislation by lawmakers. They often come with little or no public debate.

The practice has come under increased scrutiny since former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to accept bribes in exchange for earmarks. The Rancho Santa Fe Republican is serving more than eight years in prison.

Washington watchdog groups have called for reform to make the earmarking process more open.
Meanwhile, Lewis also is facing scrutiny as part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm.

In May, a federal grand jury subpoenaed documents from several Inland cities and counties about their decision to hire the lobbying firm formerly known as Copeland, Lowery, Jacquez, Denton & White and their relationship with Lewis.

Lewis has not been accused of any wrongdoing and no charges have been filed as part of the investigation. Lewis is a friend of firm partner Bill Lowery, a former congressman who served on the House Appropriations Committee. The firm also has employed several former Lewis staff members.

Lewis said Tuesday that Congress has the constitutional right to appropriate funding.

There is a misunderstanding, particularly in the media, that earmarks are "out of control," said Lewis, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Earmarks total less than 1 percent of the $900 billion in federal funding that passes through the Appropriations Committee, Lewis said. It is not outrageous for Congress to "massage" that tiny portion of the president's budget, he said.

Well, yesterday the Republican Senate caucus adopted a two-year voluntary (meaning not binding on any individual senator) earmark ban, less than 0.5% of federal spending, much of it well-spent money on important local projects by serious legislators and some of it criminal in nature. Earmark abuse is always highest when Republicans are in charge and was at its worst ever when Bush was president and Hastert and DeLay were running the House. Again, let's turn to Fox to validate that:

With President Obama a firm opponent of earmark spending, Harry Reid says he'll schedule a vote for today to see if the whole Senate wants to formally ban earmarks. Marco Rubio doesn't get a vote but he sure changed his position-- from being a huge earmark maniac to being a born-again anti-earmark crusader rabbit. Speculation is that Republicans earmark addicts Thad Cochran (R-MS), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) would cross the aisle and vote with most Senate Democrats, who want to keep the earmark system. Some of Congress' most notorious crooked earmarkers, including Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe and Missouri's Rep. (soon to be Senator) Roy Blunt, say they have no intention of stopping the practice that has endeared them to grateful contractors (and donors) in their home states. Alexander, however, buckled already and is almost as anti-earmarks as Lewis and Calvert are.
Democrats defended the age-old practice by noting they already improved the system’s transparency in 2008 and that they reserved the right to seek funding for their states’ needs.
“We have a constitutional obligation and responsibility,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I have an obligation to the people of Nevada.”
Several Democrats mocked the ban and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) surprise decision to back it.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel. Apparently Mitch McConnell is,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), an Appropriations Committee member. “The arguments being made to ban earmarks are that it’s going to reduce spending. That’s nonsense. It’s not. It just changes who decides — from elected officials, on the basis of what they’re hearing from local folks, to nameless, faceless bureaucrats.”
“It’s an integral part of how we function. It should be allowed to continue,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), also a member of the Appropriations panel. “Maybe there could be more guidelines and more transparency, but who’s to judge someone else’s home-state needs?”
Senate Republicans held a 45-minute Caucus meeting Tuesday evening on the earmark ban, eventually approving five separate, non-binding resolutions to roll back spending, cancel unspent stimulus funds, start a federal hiring freeze and reduce federal spending to 2008 levels.

...It could become practically impossible for Democrats to hold onto the practice. Republicans take over the House of Representatives in January, and GOP leaders there have already pledged to follow a similar ban. President Obama’s statement on Monday, which praised the GOP decision, may make it even more difficult for Senate Democrats to insert or defend any earmarks in appropriations bills.
Democrats said it was simply too early to tell how such a scenario would play out.
“We’ll have to see what happens when the rubber meets the road and there’s a critical piece of infrastructure that’s needed back home — a hospital or a children’s facility, or something like that,” said Lautenberg. “This is only the third inning of the game.”
“What does all that mean? Could Obama veto something? Would the House not bring something up, or take something out?” asked Appropriations Committee member Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). “This is kind of a developing story. We don’t know yet.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) disagreed fervently with her fellow Democrats. McCaskill teamed up with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to try to attach a two-year earmark ban onto a food-safety bill scheduled for a Wednesday vote. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said a decision on whether to allow that would be made by the Caucus on Wednesday.
McCaskill said she expected the support of only one other Democrat — Mark Udall of Colorado, who announced his position on Monday. McCaskill said the earmark process was too “flawed’ to keep in place.

...Earmarks have been a lucrative business on K Street, where lobbyists work with members to insert favored projects in spending vehicles. This week, several lobbyists said firms should have already been moving their clients away from earmarks and towards competing in federal grant programs.

“For those people who have not made that shift already, they are the dinosaurs waiting for the asteroid,” said Rich Gold, head of the public policy group at Holland & Knight.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home