After campaigning across America in 2006, condemning the Republicans for a "culture of corruption" and pointing to the explosion of "earmarks" during the past several years as evidence, Nancy Pelosi promised reform and a new set of ethics in the House of Representatives - if only the Democrats were given the majority. Enough people believed her, and she now is the Speaker of the House.
Mike Rogers (R-MI) apparently took the new Speaker at her word when he tried to remove a $23 million earmark in the district of now infamous Jack Murtha (D-PA) for the National Drug Intelligence Center. Rogers took note of federal audits that found the center to be "ineffective and duplicative." Murtha, the powerful Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee, was not amused by Rogers' amendment. "I hope you don't have any earmarks in the defense appropriations bills, because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever," he fired back at Rogers.
Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) took charge of the situation, announcing that henceforth, member earmarks (pork) would be handled in the shadows and anonymity of the appropriation conference committees - which by the way, he would co-chair. In other words, the appropriations chairman plays Santa with the taxpayers' checkbook; dispensing favors to members he finds deserving.
Pressured to clarify, Obey later modified his edict to say that Appropriation Conference Reports should be completed with earmark insertions before the August recess. So, magnanimous chairman that he is, he would allow members to review the funding bills during the break and file questions or objections to any particular earmark with him - personally - to be reviewed by his committee staff before the final report comes to the floor for approval.
No committee hearing. No floor debate. No opportunity to offer an amendment to strip an earmark from the final bill. All authority to include, alter, or eliminate an earmark will rest with the all-knowing, all-powerful David Obey.
Does this sound like a new ethical way of doing business to you? Ironically, this chain of events were in blatant defiance of the transparency procedures adopted by the 2006 GOP House majority to address an obviously out of control pork-barrel spending process.
Nancy Pelosi rushed to Obey's side to declare her support, and to work her magic spin doctoring. Apparently, pork-barrel earmarks no longer exist in the Pelosi-Obey world. Media outlets have reported that the Speaker now refers to earmarks as "legislative directed spending." Magic!
Understandably, Republicans revolted against the Obey-Pelosi private slush fund announcement and went to the press to shame the devil. In addition to exposing the hypocrisy of the Democrats campaign promises, House Minority Leader John Boehner threatened to deploy procedural floor maneuvers to make life miserable for the Democrats - in the same way Pelosi often made life miserable for Denny Hastert when he was Speaker.
Apparently, Mrs. Pelosi wants nothing to do with taking her own medicine.
Thursday, June 14, House Democrats spent most of the day huddled together arguing among themselves about what to do. Fortunately, those that felt they should do the right thing prevailed.
When the doors opened and the smoke cleared, Boehner informed his Republican colleagues that they had prevailed, and henceforth Democrats will abandon their plans to pass appropriations bills with slush funds for secret earmarks and restore the 2006 House Republican earmark reforms for appropriations bills.
Unfortunately, taxpayers have come to expect less from Congress. At least this time, as Boehner said, "We've taken a principled stand together on behalf of the American people." And, the American people and the GOP are the better for it.
Bob Beauprez served two terms as Congressman from Colorado's 7th Congressional District, is the former Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, was the Republican nominee for Governor in 2006 and is an honorary member of the Conservative Leadership Council of Northwest Colorado.