House bans for-profit earmarks 

The House today announced a ban on earmarks that are directed to for-profit companies.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., handed down the order on Wednesday, adding that they will require an audit of at least 5 percent of every non-profit earmarks to ensure the rules are being followed.

No word yet on whether the Senate will follow, but it has been generally more resistant to altering the earmark process, which allows lawmakers to bring back big money for projects in their districts.

According to Obey, if the new rule were in place last year, a thousand for-profit earmarks would have been rejected.

Rep. Joe Sestak said he wants to replace all earmarks with competitive grants, "The House has taken a good first step, and the Senate should follow suit," said Sestak, who is running for Senate against fellow Democrat Arlen Specter, D-Pa., "What really needs to be done to best allocate taxpayer money, and restore some faith in Congress, is to scrap the earmark system outright and replace it with a competitive grant process."

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, called the move by Obey a positive first step, but he disagreed with the number of for-profit earmarks passed last year.

"To be sure there are a lot more earmarks than just 1,000 they claim would be affected. In fiscal 2010 we found 9,500 earmarks worth $15.9 billion," Ellis said. "But for-profit earmarks are ground zero for pay-to-play and it makes sense to rein them in first.

Ellis added the move won't accomplish much "if the Senate doesn’t step up to the plate the year."

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