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Pet projects pushed out of public eye

By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published June 5, 2007


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The new game that House Appropriations Chairman David Obey intends to play with budget earmarks this year is worse than the usual hide-and-seek. He is taking the whole thing underground, as though he is to be trusted as a one-man auditor for congressional pork. If this is to be the new ethic that Democrats promised, voters might want their ballots back.

Obey is claiming, against mounting evidence to the contrary, that he intends to crack the budgetary whip. He says he wants to reduce by half the number of special projects, such as the infamous $223-million Alaskan "bridge to nowhere, " that ultimately find their way into the budget. "As long as I'm in charge, " he told Congressional Quarterly, "I'm going to make doggone sure that we do everything possible to screen every project."

Turning out the light, however, won't exactly help. Obey has announced he is removing all project requests from the appropriations bills that are working their way through Congress, preferring instead to add them as a last-minute surprise in the conference committees. Once the conference bill is approved, it is sent to both chambers for an up-or-down vote and no amendments.

The result, then, is that the earmark projects will receive almost no public scrutiny and no congressional debate. This is precisely the kind of environment in which convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff thrived, the kind of place he fondly called the "favor factory."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to drain this swamp, of course, but Democrats attached enough pork to the Iraq appropriations bill this spring to render that commitment a fraud. Neither the House nor the Senate has delivered on its promise to fully expose and limit the special-interest earmarks.

As budgetary gambits go, though, Obey's is particularly insidious. It is what Democratic caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel last fall called "earmark abuse" when he introduced an amendment that sought to prohibit "the inclusion of earmarks and other provisions in conference reports without the language having first been in either the House or Senate legislation's original language."

That was when the Republicans were in charge. Now the Democrats run the bank, and it appears open for withdrawals again.

[Last modified June 4, 2007, 23:02:28]


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