WASHINGTON – Just two weeks after the House passed a reform bill requiring lawmakers to attach their names to pet projects, GOP leaders are advancing spending bills containing billions of dollars in such parochial "earmarks" whose sponsors remain anonymous.
Most lawmakers, like Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who obtained $11 million for a child development center at Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, are happy to take credit for their earmarks when asked. Others, like Martin Sabo, D-Minn., immediately put out news releases trumpeting hometown projects like a $1 million sewer system upgrade for Minneapolis.
So why isn't the Appropriations Committee instituting the reforms, aimed at introducing greater openness to the earmarking process in the wake of scandals and ongoing federal investigations into lawmakers and their earmarks?
After all, one former lawmaker, Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., is already in prison on charges he took bribes from defense contractors in exchange for federal projects. And Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the House ethics committee, is under federal investigation over earmarks awarded to companies led by friends and business associates.
And Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., is facing scrutiny for his dealings with earmark-seeking lobbyist Bill Lowery, a former congressman from San Diego.
The official reason is that the disclosure bill isn't yet law and leadership has agreed to apply the disclosure requirements to other committees and not just the Lewis-led Appropriations panel. Appropriators complain that lawmakers on other committees — like the tax-writing Ways and Means panel — should have to claim responsibility for their "pork," which is often far more costly.
"We agreed to work with all the (legislative) committees and the tax committee to make sure we have a rule that's fair and equitable for all committees," said Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Until that becomes law, I think that we're asking an awful lot to expect one committee to meet that requirement."
Final resolution of the disclosure legislation, part of a broader effort to overhaul rules regarding lobbyists and congressional travel, however, could be months away.
Added Appropriations panel spokesman John Scofield: "If you're going to talk about earmarks, let's talk about the really expensive ones that are a permanent part of the tax code."
But there could be other factors at play as well. For starters, revealing sponsors of projects could create problems within the rank and file over the often arbitrary nature of how earmarks are awarded. Senior lawmakers in the leadership on the Appropriations panel reap many projects, as do junior lawmakers facing difficult re-election bids.
Disclosure could spur resentments if some members start wondering why certain people are getting special treatment.
Earmarks come in many varieties, but they're often money set aside in spending bills for individual members' requests such as federal construction projects and grants to universities, hospitals and local law enforcement agencies.
The number of earmarks has greatly increased under Republican control of Congress, and budget hawks in the GOP are dismayed about the party's performance on spending. Now, with President Bush and GOP leaders clamping down on domestic agency budgets, the House panel is trimming the number of projects it awards.