Earmark stench is getting worse 

Senators who haven’t yet gotten their earmark requests tucked into the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill were no doubt gladdened to hear yesterday that the deadline has been extended. That happy news came in an e-mail circulated on Capitol Hill yesterday from Senate Appropriation Committee aide Jeff Kratz. Now lawmakers have until May 4 to get those juicy pork barrel projects funded in the 2008 Labor/HHS/Education spending bill.

There is a revealing line in Kratz’ e-mail that bears comment: "As always, Member offices will be responsible for complying with all applicable ethics rules and standards." Sounds like a routine reminder to senators to abide by the rules, especially now that the new Democratic majority is cleaning up the "culture of corruption" left behind by the GOP, right? In fact, behind that otherwise innocuous sentence is the steadily ripening stench of a broken promise.

Remember right after the November elections when the Senate’s long-time "King of Pork," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., promised an "earmark moratorium" on 2007 spending? The moratorium was supposed to give while the new Democratic majority time to pass the promised legislation that would shine needed light on the thousands of anonymous spending measures slipped into bills by senators and congressmen. Since Byrd was about to become Appropriations Committee chairman and was well-known for directing billions of dollars in earmarks to his home state, the moratorium was seen by many congressional reformers as an encouraging sign.

Now we find that not only has the moratorium on 2007 spending bill earmarks been forgotten, senators are in the process of larding up 2008 bills as well. Both the Senate and the House have passed earmark reforms, but the Democratic leadership in both chambers is taking its time about resolving differences between the two measures. So, the rules Kratz reminds senators to follow are the same ones that were in place during when the GOP sowed its culture of corruption. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Meanwhile, over on the House side, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., told The Hill last week that the $24 billion worth of pork barrel in the Iraq emergency supplemental funding bill "was put in by the leadership after we wrote the bill." Now Moran says the pork "didn’t get us a single vote." Moran’s candor points to another reason congressional Democrats need to re-think their strategy on earmarks before the odor becomes overwhelming.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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