Friday, September 15, 2006

Earmark Disclosure Slight-Of-Hand

Here is a typical example of lawmakers taking action to mask the fact that no real action is being taken.

The House voted yesterday to shed more light on narrow-interest tax and spending legislation called earmarks, an incremental step toward openness that ended the prospect for a more sweeping overhaul of federal lobbying laws this year.

With a 245 to 171 vote, the House reacted to a year of congressional scandals by requiring its members to own up to the thousands of earmarks they sponsor each year. ...

The rule change shelves a wider ethics bill, however, at least until next year. That bill became bogged down amid disagreements between the House and the Senate, and the reluctance of lawmakers from both parties to limit their interactions with lobbyists. The earmarks measure was brought up as a passable way to address voter unrest over the scandals, aides said.

"This bill represents the death of lobby reform," said Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. ...

The House and the Senate did endorse separate lobbying-overhaul bills this spring, but efforts to reconcile them stalled over a disagreement about a House-passed provision that would restrict independent campaign organizations called 527s. Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans refused to accept the provision, but the House insisted that it be included in the final bill.

Lawmakers from both parties and both chambers also lost their enthusiasm for the bill as lobbying groups pressured them to water down the legislation and voters remained silent about its diminishing prospects.

Democratic leaders complained about the earmarks change yesterday. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called it "shameful" and "a sham." She said that the measure would not end the abuse of the earmarking process and was filled with loopholes that would still permit anonymous projects to be inserted into law without public scrutiny.

Obey called the measure a "trivial pursuit," saying it would do little to alter federal spending while blocking a serious updating of federal ethics laws. "The majority has labored long and produced a mouse," Obey added, "or a fig leaf at best."

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