Junkets, earmarks block sunshine 

Imagine burning through 10,000 tax dollars every hour to fly a bunch of congressmen, their wives and staff members on an Easter recess tour of the Caribbean, including a stay at the five-star Caneel Bay resort on the Virgin Islands. A spokesman for Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who led the junket, said the congressman and his wife paid a "government rate," but the resort’s reservations department told The Examiner’s Charles Hurt that no such rate is offered there.

Now imagine getting elected as part of a new majority in Congress on a platform promising to clean up the stench of corruption pervading the nation’s capital by members of the other political party. You said the new leadership would change things in Washington, D.C., especially on earmarks, the pork barrel snuck into spending bills behind closed doors by anonymous politicians. Despite your promises, however, you sit on your hands stonewalling the very reforms you promised even as colleagues stuff spending bills with more pork.

Actually, no imagination is required for either scenario because both are happening right now. Congressional junkets aren’t new, but the justifications offered for them almost always defy credulity. Exhibit A here could be the claim by a Thompson aide that the Caribbean junket was to "examine border security and port security." There’s this for Exhibit B: After departing the Virgin Islands, Thompson’s group headed to Key West for what an aide called a "classified briefing on interjurisdictional agency task forces." Such obfuscation is thought by Washington sophisticates to fool the gullible rubes outside the Beltway whose tax dollars finance the lavish jaunts.

Similarly, Democrats in both chambers of Congress passed needed earmark reforms requiring disclosure of sponsoring congressmen, but have since dawdled on ironing out the differences between the respective measures. But nothing today prevents the Senate reforms, approved on a 98-0 vote, from being applied to that chamber’s work except Democrats stalling a resolution introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to begin enforcing the earmark reforms now. Meanwhile, hundreds of anonymous earmarks collectively worth billions of tax dollars are being crammed into the 2007 budget with the blessing of the House Democratic leadership.

DeMint has vowed to bring his resolution back to the Senate floor at least once a week as long as necessary. DeMint’s vow perhaps rings true with the Senate’s King of Pork, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., who has often recalled in his many orations certain Roman senators. Cato the Elder, for instance, ended every speech by saying "Carthage must be destroyed." Voters will visit the same fate on Democrats and Republicans who keep dawdling on needed reforms.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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