Friday :: Jan 5, 2007

A Little Exposure on Those Earmarks

by Mary

Congress just passed new budget rules that require Pay as you go and publicly disclosing pet projects - aka earmarks.

It seems that some Republicans are very unhappy with the PAYGO provision.

“This is putting the American taxpayer on a collision course with higher taxes,” said Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, top Republican on the Budget Committee.

“Today, we are cutting our national credit card,” countered Heath Shuler, D-N.C., during floor debate Friday. To underscore the point, Shuler cut a credit card in half at a news conference populated by moderate-to-conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats who are most responsible for implementing the rule.

At the same time, House lawmakers passed a Democratic proposal to require lawmakers to disclose publicly the pet projects – referred to as earmarks in legislative terms – they want for their districts or states, such as Alaska's bridge to nowhere in the last Congress. Republicans had made a similar move last year, and GOP critics of pet projects applauded Democrats' efforts to require greater disclosure.

Still, only about a fourth of the Republicans voted for the earmark disclosures because it was linked to the PAYGO rule that will make it harder to extend the tax cuts set to expire in four years.

The emphasis on earmark reform came in the wake of the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal, in which the former California GOP congressman pleaded guilty to corruption charges for channeling earmarks to defense contractors in exchange for $2.4 million in bribes. Lesser scandals have hit other lawmakers.

Of course, if Congress borrows the money for making the tax cuts permanent, someone will be paying the bill, just not their plutocrat friends.

The earmarks have been a very lucrative source of funds for the lobbying community as well as the Congress members who add them to a bill. From the NY Times last summer:

Enlisted almost exclusively to land earmarks, lobbyists for local governments have boomed alongside a broader explosion in such appropriations, to 12,852 items worth $64 billion last year from 4,219 pet projects totaling $27.7 billion in 1998. The prolific earmarking does not change the overall budget's bottom line, but how the pie is cut: dollars are doled out, often in secret, at the whim of a lone legislator — often under the influence of a lobbyist — rather than through a competitive process.

Earmarks passed out so freely during the past few years are coming back to haunt the Congress. Today, the LA Times reports that prosecutors have issued subpeonnas to the Intelligence, Appropriations and Armed Services committees.

The probe stems from the bribery case against Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), who pleaded guilty and resigned in 2005.

The scope of the investigation is unclear, although the request for documents is considered unusually broad.

The subpoenas, which follow a failed attempt by the Justice Department to persuade the Republican Congress to voluntarily turn over thousands of documents, could test Democrats' pledge to reform ethics in the new Congress. Last year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) — who today becomes House speaker — opposed a broad-based Justice Department search warrant targeting Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.).

The subpoenas went to the armed services, appropriations and intelligence committees, whose Republican chairmen reported the subpoenas to outgoing House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in letters dated two weeks ago.

The subpoenas were made public Wednesday by the Congressional Record online. The House is supposed to turn over the requested records by Jan. 11 or else file an objection with the U.S. District Court in San Diego. Typically, such deadlines are extended.

Prosecutors in San Diego and a spokesman for the general counsel of the House declined to comment, and a Pelosi spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

The subpoenas are an escalation of a nine-month tug-of-war between the Justice Department and House Republicans. Prosecutors had asked the committees to turn over the information voluntarily.

House leaders and their lawyers consider the request constitutionally suspect, saying it runs afoul of the "speech or debate" clause, which protects members of Congress from prosecution for their legislative acts, including earmarks. Some have also complained that the committees would need months to compile such data.

Perhaps Rep. Jerry Lewis is a little worried these days? Because I think that the Duke Cunningham case shows that outright bribes will not protect a congressman from prosecution. And via TPMMuckraker, we see that the Cleveland Plain Dealer has come up with the quid pro quo for Bob Ney's little services for Abramoff.

What did it cost for Ney to insert language in the Help America Vote Act that would have helped a Texas Indian tribe represented by Abramoff to reopen a closed casino? Abramoff instructed the tribe to make political donations to Ney that totalled $32,000.

Frankly, I hope that Nancy supports the investigations because with $64b involved, one can be assured there is a lot more corruption than we've yet heard about.

Mary :: 12:32 PM :: Comments (12) :: Digg It!