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Bill Opens ‘Pork’ Process

Few people inside the Beltway believe Congress is going to abandon the practice of funneling money to a lawmaker’s home district or state.

Despite all the noise on Capitol Hill about “earmarks,” few people inside the Beltway believe that members of Congress are going to abandon the practice of funneling money to a lawmaker’s home district or state.

by J.J. Smith

Proof of that is that a Republican Conference rule banning earmarks hasn’t stopped individual Republican members—such as Sens. James Inhofe, Okla., and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska—from vowing to continue to pursue that spending. In addition, many Capitol Hill lawmakers say they will continue to stream funds to their states or districts, it just won’t be called an “earmark.”

Let’s be frank about earmarks. They account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget, their elimination will do little to cut the $1.3 trillion budget deficit, and most fund projects like highway repairs, or public works projects. However, because of the voter uprising that led to the change in control of the House, spending cuts will dominate in the short run. Nonetheless, further proof that earmarks aren’t dead is at the heart of a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that seeks to not only make the earmark process transparent, but publicized.

The proposed “Earmark Transparency Act” (S.3335) contains 23 points, including the creation of a “Congressional Earmark Database” which is a “searchable website” that is linked to the Senate and House websites and allows the public to search for earmarks across multiple fields and provides “total number and dollar value of earmarks requested by an individual member of Congress.”

Additional information includes the name(s) of all earmark requestors; the federal fiscal year in which the earmark would be funded; the bill number on which the request is made; the amount of the initial request and the amount approved by the committee of jurisdiction and the amount in the final legislation; if the earmark is to fund a specific project or organization, all the information on the project or organization; and the justification for the earmark (including what the benefit is to the taxpayers).

In a written statement, Coburn said the website would help restore the public’s trust with lawmakers. “The simple principle underlying this legislation is that we need more sunlight to shine on our great system,” he said, adding, “The brighter the sunlight, the more our great democracy will flourish.”

If the earmark website will help restore the public’s trust in Congress is anyone’s guess, but it can’t hurt to let the public get a glimpse of the pork as it’s being made.