House Passes Measure to Identify Pork-Barrel Spenders

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - In a move toward greater "transparency," the House on Thursday passed a measure dealing with pork barrel projects -- lawmakers' efforts to funnel taxpayers' money to their home districts through a process known as "earmarking."

The resolution providing earmark "reform" passed 245-171, and the rule change will take effect immediately.

The measure won't stop pork barrel spending, but it will force lawmakers to attach their names to their pet projects in bills that make it through committee. There will be no more "anonymous" earmarks in such legislation.

"If you aren't willing to put your name on the project, you shouldn't expect the American people to pay for it," said Majority Leader John Boehner said.

"Today's action will bring greater transparency and accountability to the way Congress earmarks taxpayer funds," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "It will bring all committees under the umbrella of earmark reform. Shining sunlight into the process will bring greater fiscal responsibility to the institution."

But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) admits the measure won't stop wasteful spending. For one thing, it doesn't apply to all legislation.

"I am under no illusion that this legislation, which deals only with the issue of transparency, will solve the problem of earmarking. Too many in this body have been convinced that they have both a right and an obligation to personally direct funding to their district. But this bill does represent an important first step," Flake said.

The free-market group Americans for Prosperity hailed House passage of the resolution and urged the Senate to follow suit.

"Too many in Washington are hooked on pork-barrel politics, and these reforms represent the acknowledgment of a problem and an important first step toward recovery," said Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips.

"While there is certainly more that needs to be done, these reforms will provide taxpayers, bloggers, and grassroots organizations like ours with more transparency so we can work together to fight waste, fraud and abuse.

"In the past year, we've been able to block pork-barrel earmarks for Bridges to Nowhere in Alaska, a Railroad to Nowhere in Mississippi and other boondoggles, and with these reforms, we're going to be able to fight even more wasteful projects like these in the future," Phillips said.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of earmarks has skyrocketed from 958 in 1996 to 15,877 last year.

'Americans not fooled'

The earmark reform measure didn't please everyone.

"The earmark rules changes will not fool the American people into ignoring the irresponsible failure by the House to address the worst House corruption scandals in decades," said Democracy 21, a group that works to eliminate the influence of money in American politics.

"At the core of the House corruption scandals has been the use of political money and financial benefits and perks by lobbyists and other influence-seekers to buy access and influence with members of Congress," said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.

"Congress has enacted no reforms to change the corrupt status quo when it comes to these problems.

"In failing to enact lobbying and ethics reforms, members of Congress have chosen to protect their own self-interest at the great expense of the interests of the American people."

Wertheimer noted that Congress has not changed the rules dealing with campaign contributions, "vacation-type trips," lavish parties, company plane rides and other payola offered to Members of Congress by influence-seekers.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was quoted as calling the earmark reform measure a "political gimmick to make it look as if something is happening."

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