by John Hawkins | September 10, 2007 5:51 am
Before the 2006 elections, Democrats complained about earmarks and said they’d clean things up when they were in charge. So, what are they actually doing? Writing an “ethics” bill to jam pork through over the protests of fiscal conservatives like Tom Coburn & Jim DeMint. Via Robert Novak,
The final version of the widely celebrated ethics bill, passed by overwhelming margins in both House and Senate a month ago, finally and quietly made its way last week from Capitol Hill to the White House. It surely will soon be signed into law by President Bush. What only a handful of leaders and insiders realize is that this measure, avowedly dedicated to transparency, actually makes it easier for the Senate to pass pet projects without the public — or many senators — being aware of it.
Until now, one or two senators could block any provision that had not been passed by either Senate or House from being inserted, usually at the end of a session, in the final version of a bill. Under the new rule, it will take 40 senators to block such proposals that are protected by the majority or even the bipartisan leadership. That will make it much easier to enact any number of special interest measures, which is the goal of all too many members of Congress.
… (Tom) Coburn objected to the bill taking new policing of pork barrel earmarks away from the Senate’s non-partisan parliamentarian and giving it to the majority leader. “That makes the quarterback the referee,” he said.
But not even Coburn’s detailed analysis of the bill’s treatment of earmarks mentioned the audacious change in Senate Rule 28 that covers inclusion in a Senate-House conference report of “extraneous matter” that neither chamber passed. For years at the end of a session, party leaders solicited senators for dozens of their pet extraneous projects to insert in conference reports. However, it would take 67 votes to suspend the rules in the 100-member Senate to enact each such provision. In practice, if a party leader learned of serious opposition by one or two senators in his caucus, he would remove the provision because those dissenters might derail the entire conference report.
But the ethics bill’s revision of Rule 28 removes that safeguard. Any senator can propose that points of order on the conference report be waived for all extraneous provisions with a mere one-hour debate permitted for the lot of them. That can add to a bill 40 or more such provisions that never really will be debated. The floodgates will be open.
Multiple earmarks now will be added to a conference report by only 60 votes after but one hour of debate. As Coburn has complained, the final version of the ethics bill permits newly required identification of earmarks and posting on the Internet to be waived by either the majority leader or minority leader. They can also waive the new requirement that conference reports be posted on the Internet no less than 48 hours prior to the Senate vote. So much for transparency.
This is Congress at its worst. They put together an “ethics” bill that won’t improve ethics, but will increase the amount of pork being pushed through. Then you have a devil’s bargain between the politicians who want the pork and the politicians scared to vote against an “ethics” bill. Together they all pass the bill and then everyone who voted for it will campaign on it in 2008.
If you want to know why the public is so cynical about Congress, it’s because of bills like this one. Congress is one big pack of rats and even when they’re pretending to do the right thing by passing an “ethics” bill, 90% of the time it’s just another scam that they’re trying to foist on the American people.
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