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Pet projects' public outing is debated

Published June 12, 2007


WASHINGTON - A top House Democrat delivered a promise - and a threat - Monday about the disclosure of the pet projects known as earmarks.

Under pressure from Republicans, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that this year all earmarks and their sponsors will be listed in the Congressional Record a month before they come up for final approval.

Lawmakers and the public can raise questions, sponsors can defend their projects, and the Appropriations Committee will make final decisions.

Obey warned that he would bar earmarks completely if Republicans attacked individual projects to score political points.

Earmarks - federal money for bridges, clinics or military contractors that helps endear lawmakers to constituents - have tripled in volume in the last 12 years, to a cost of more than $64-billion.

Early this year, Democrats passed rules intended to make representatives more accountable by requiring for the first time the disclosure of which lawmakers requested each earmark. Then Obey said earmarks would be disclosed only when House and Senate conference committees worked behind closed doors to prepare bills for final approval. He argued that a crush of work gave the committee staff insufficient time to evaluate the thousands of requests for projects earlier.

Republicans, still smarting from Democratic accusations of earmark abuse under Republican control, criticized Obey's plan for the disclosure period. They said Democrats should keep their promise of publicizing earmark requests before spending bills reach the House floor.

"Democrats are still making it easy to hide wasteful spending from the American people and making a mockery of their pledge, " said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said that under Obey's new plan, the final decision on each earmark would be made by the handful of leaders of a House and Senate conference. Ellis called that "the proverbial smoke-filled room."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 02:11:51]

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