January 18, 2007

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: From the Wall Street Journal, a report on an earmark victory:

If Republicans are wondering how best to shorten their time in the minority, they could do worse than to build on this week’s Senate earmark victory. That reform success proves how good policy translates into good politics.

The Senate on Tuesday passed significant earmark reform, 98-0. But that unanimous tally masks the bitter battle that preceded the vote. When Republican freshmen Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint first launched an effort last summer to make earmarks more transparent, they struggled. Republicans had to be dragged into even minimal reform, and among their first acts after losing the election was to attempt to slip thousands more earmarks into their lame-duck spending bills.

Still, minority status has a way of focusing the mind, and combined with continued DeMint-Coburn shaming, Senate Republicans appear to have re-embraced some principles. When Majority Leader Harry Reid last week attempted to water down House Democrats’ earmark reform, Messrs. Coburn and DeMint rallied enough fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) to outmaneuver the spenders. Red-faced at getting caught trying to submarine their own party’s plan for reform, Senate Democrats did an about-face and jumped on the earmark-reform bandwagon.

The result was a mini-competition as to which side of the aisle was tougher on earmarks, and a final bill that goes beyond even the House reform. Senator DeMint passed (98-0) an amendment that broadens the definition of an earmark; even those slipped into last-minute conference reports will have to be disclosed. Under the original Senate legislation, 95% of earmarks would have escaped scrutiny.

More amazing was Democrats’ new enthusiasm for oversight. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin — who started off trying to tank Mr. DeMint’s reform — finished by passing an amendment (also 98-0) that requires lawmakers to post their earmark requests on the Internet 48 hours before a vote. (The House version of the bill simply requires a public disclosure form.) California Democrat Dianne Feinstein also joined in, passing by voice vote a provision that would bar lawmakers from including earmarks in the classified parts of a bill or a conference report unless they also included language in unclassified terms describing the project, funding levels and sponsor. Classified reports were among the ways that former Rep. Duke Cunningham — now in federal prison — hid his earmark payoffs.

Read the whole thing (it’s subscription-only, but the link should work for a few days). It’s progress, but there’s lots more to be done. Last year, pork and earmarks polled higher than Iraq as voter priorities for Congress. Maybe Congress is noticing?

UPDATE: Robert Bluey writes that it was the bloggers:

In ways both big and small, bloggers are changing how business is done on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., learned firsthand last week the effect bloggers can have on public policy when he was handed the first defeat of his short tenure as majority leader.

It all started last Thursday when conservative Sen. Jim DeMint,

R-S.C., sought to strengthen the Senate’s ethics reform bill by amending it to include the same earmark reform language in the House-passed version. Reid’s deputy, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tried to kill the amendment, but nine Democrats broke ranks and backed DeMint. Instead of accepting defeat, Reid tried to twist arms and reverse the vote.

That’s when bloggers took notice. Rallying to DeMint’s defense, a coalition of bloggers, led by Andy Roth at the Club for Growth, documented Reid’s strong-arm tactics. The Examiner’s own Mark Tapscott and Ed Frank at Americans for Prosperity jumped on the story. I posted video on YouTube of Reid and DeMint’s clash on the Senate floor.

In the meantime, bloggers sent e-mails to Jon Henke, the newly hired new-media director for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. It’s Henke’s job to deal with bloggers, and if there was ever an occasion, this was it.

Read the whole thing.

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