Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Byrd Blocking Earmarks?

A true sign of the coming apocalypse.
ONE OF THE MASTERS of pork-barrel politics in Washington is the dean of the Senate Democrats, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. Eager to funnel tax dollars back to his state for roads, sewers, clinics and other projects, Byrd has been a tenacious defender of "earmarking" — the formal term for a lawmaker directing federal money to a pet local project.

That's why it was stunning to hear Byrd, the incoming chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and his House counterpart, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), announce that they wouldn't support any earmarks for the rest of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. All the projects previously approved by either the House or the Senate in nine yet-to-be-completed spending bills — nearly 10,000 projects costing about $17 billion, according to Citizens Against Government Waste — will be dropped.
I'd be more convinced of their sincerity if they would legislate earmarks out of existence, but that is a bit too much to hope for. But I will applaud them for taking this action.
It's a welcome shift in the way Washington does business, even if it may only be temporary. In a statement released Monday, Byrd and Obey said they would support earmarks again after "a reformed process is put in place," including "new standards for transparency and accountability." Longtime appropriations veterans, Byrd and Obey believe that it's proper for lawmakers to steer funds toward specific projects. But they're also astute enough to recognize how corrupt the process had become and to see the damage it was causing to the institution each has served for more than three decades.
I'll believe it when I see it. The Rethugs better jump on this and be seen as even more restrictive if they want to survive. They didn't get any reform of any importance through on this in the last year, so they had best be seen to be enthusiastic on these reforms.

Shockingly, the LATimes actually concludes this article intelligently:
Ultimately, the test will be how far Congress goes in the name of earmark reform. If lawmakers agree to disclose not only the sponsors of each pet project and tax break but the interest groups that sought them, the lobbyists involved and the campaign donations that flowed, then Byrd and Obey's action will be more than a mere timeout. It will be a watershed moment in the cause of clean government.
Now, what will they do to start reducing the size of government?

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