Earmarks on the chopping block?
posted by Edward Felker, P-B Washington Bureau
First it was conservative Republicans, including Rep. John Kline, R-Lakeville, who swore off trying to win local "earmark" project funding. They argue that the allocation of billions of dollars for hometown projects favors powerful appropriators and contributes to deficit spending on sometimes dubious pork barrel boondoggles.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Ariz. was also on board and President Bush has made earmark reduction a condition of signing appropriations bills this year -- hang on, we'll get back to why Bush's stance is important.
Now, Democrats, having tried to reduce the number and secrecy of earmark requests but still getting hammered by Republicans, are jumping ship. Dem presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois announced Monday they would support a one-year moratorium on earmarks sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. See more at The Politico.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last week raised the idea of the House also forgoing earmarks as a way to pay for a big infrastructure stimulus bill, to muted response so far. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Mankato, said Thursday he would look at the idea but said he had not registered his support or opposition with Pelosi.
The Politico's David Rogers notes that a one-year moratorium may be something of a freebie politically. Bush's vow to veto spending bills that exceed his budget targets, combined with the elections, appear to set the stage for the Democrats to extend the 2008 budget year into 2009 without new appropriations bills and new earmarks, though they will likely pass defense spending bills.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told me last month, when civic leaders from the Illinois-Iowa Quad Cities staged their annual lobbying trip to D.C, that there was a 50-50 chance of such a scenario taking place. That story appeared in the P-B's sister papers, the Moline (IL) Dispatch and the Rock Island (IL) Argus.
The story is behind the papers' subscriber firewall, but here is Durbin's view at the time: "There's an argument that if the president is going to veto whatever we do, why waste the time? Do what we need to do to keep the government functioning and hope the next president will be willing to work with us."
Davenport, Iowa Mayor Bill Gluba was already planning for 2009. "Because of the elections coming up in the fall, there probably won't be any final decisions made on funding and money until February 2009," he said. "We're laying the groundwork and getting requests in and paperwork out of the way, then maybe we'll get some dough after February of next year."
More to come on this one. In the meantime, check out everything earmarks at Taxpayers for Common Sense, including the group's database of current year earmark projects and views on the pending 2008 Farm Bill. The bill has been closely watched by earmark foes as well.