By Freedom Newspapers
Congressional Democrats, attempting to make good on their pledge to be more fiscally responsible than ousted Republicans, actually eliminated pork-barrel earmarks from spending bills the GOP left unfinished. As well, rules were changed to require members, for the first time, to identify their earmarks, in the hope that more transparency might shame members into pigging out less. They were off to a promising start.
But our hopes that the anti-earmark trend might carry over into this year’s appropriations process have been dashed. And as it turns out, just because members have to file a list of earmarks doesn’t mean they have to make the list public.
As of Tuesday, only 55 House members and two senators — Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Jon Kyl of Arizona — had released a list of their earmarks, in response to a request from Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscal watchdog group. And the group reports that 80 members of the House and 11 senators have refused to do so.
As a long-time budget watcher, CAGW president Tom Schatz had no illusions that the rule change would end earmarking altogether. But he still hopes more transparency will lead to fewer earmarks.
“It’s difficult for the leadership to continue to say, ‘We’re the most open and ethical Congress ever, and yet we’re not telling you what we’re requesting for earmarks,’” Schatz told The Associated Press.
But apparently, that’s exactly what Congress wants us to believe.
Of special interest, perhaps, is how the members running for president responded — not that the present occupant of the Oval Office has distinguished himself as a deficit hawk. Thus far, four of the 10 members running have released their lists. Obama has, as indicated, as have Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter (California), Ron Paul (Texas) and Tom Tancredo.
Hunter, like many colleagues, has responded to the anti-earmarking movement by trying to turn a vice into a virtue. “Others may call those earmarks. I call them doing your job,” Hunter said. “I like people to see what I’m doing.”
But do we really want a president who believes thieving from the Treasury is acceptable when it’s done in broad daylight? And then Republicans wonder why they’ve lost credibility as the fiscally responsible party.
Even Paul, who’s reputed to be a true conservative, found a way to justify his earmarks, which include federal money to fix a trolley system in Galveston and to help market “wild American shrimp.”
Paul says he’s simply working within a “flawed system” to ensure that “residents of congressional districts have a greater role in allocating federal funds.”
That’s pretty weak, but at least these candidates made a full disclosure. Sen. Hillary Clinton thus far has refused, as have Republican Sen. Sam Brownback (Kansas), Democratic Sens. Joseph Biden (Delaware) and Chris Dodd (Connecticut) and Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio).
These people want voters to elect them president, yet refuse to tell taxpayers what items they’ve tacked onto spending bills or explain why these projects are a bona fide national priority. Amazing.
Arizona Sen. John McCain — who has been one of Congress’ most ardent critics of pork-barrel abuses — told CAGW he hasn’t requested any earmarks, earning him high marks with us for consistency, at least on this issue.
These are some of your presidential candidates, America. It’s just a good thing for them that the country’s broken budget process hasn’t become a major campaign issue.
Hopefully, that will change.