PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DUNCAN HUNTER is guest-posting on pork over at PorkBusters.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Members of Congress want to keep their earmarks:
The Senate’s Democratic leaders have a political problem with earmarks. Ever since the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska captured the public’s imagination last year, they have been on record against legislators stealthily slipping in their favorite spending projects. But most senators, from both parties, really want to keep earmarks. An ingenious effort to reconcile those conflicting political desires created a remarkable tableau in the U.S. Senate Tuesday.
First-term Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina rose on the Senate floor shortly before noon to request unanimous consent for immediate enactment of a rule requiring full disclosure of earmarks. But the Democratic leadership was forewarned. Just before DeMint took the floor, the Appropriations Committee — led by Sen. Robert Byrd, the Senate’s king of pork — issued its own flawed anti-earmark regulation. Then, Majority Whip Dick Durbin objected to passage of the DeMint rule on grounds that ethics should not be considered on a piecemeal basis.
This Democratic scenario got rave reviews from most Republicans. Senators like to be on record against earmarks while still enjoying them. The problem is that DeMint and his fellow Republican first-termer, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, just won’t let the issue rest. Amid thundering silence from the GOP leadership after Durbin’s objection, Coburn declared on the Senate floor: “I would remind my colleagues that we don’t have a higher favorable rating than the president at this time . . . and the reason we don’t is the very reason we just saw. . . . It’s a sad day in the Senate because we’re playing games with the American public.” . . . This is no Democrat-vs.-Republican partisan struggle. The word in the Republican cloakroom was that a GOP senator would derail the DeMint rule if the Democrats did not. The Republican leadership is not enthralled with DeMint and Coburn, and would like them to go away. They won’t. They are determined to bring into the open who sponsors and who benefits from earmarks.
Read the whole thing. It’s not like the Republicans were good on this when they had the majority. But the Democrats did promise to end the “culture of corruption” and all. . . .
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Hey, it’s another secret hold in the Senate!
Yet again an anonymous Senator has placed a secret hold on legislation that would increase transparency. This time a secret hold has been placed on a bill, S. 223, that would mandate that Senators file their campaign finance reports electronically. This process would not only make these reports more readily available to the public but would also save money and resources. Yesterday this bill was blocked by an anonymous Senator who placed a secret hold on the bill. Secret holds are so looked down on these days that earlier this year the Senate itself banned the practice, although the bill containing that provision has yet to become law. But until secrets holds are banished forever, we need your help in exposing the culprit who is blocking consideration of the electronic filing requirement for Senate campaign finance reports. We need your help to find out who placed this secret hold! Call your Senators and ask them if they are the one with the secret hold on S. 223. Then report back here in the comments with your findings or email us at [email protected]
Follow the link for contact information.
UPDATE: A reader who works in the Senate says that there’s no secret hold: “Yesterday, somebody attempted to move the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act up on the schedule by asking for Unanimous Consent. One or more Senators objected to an immediate Unanimous Consent to give themselves time to review the legislation. The legislation is not blocked from receiving its regular consideration; it simply did not receive an early Unanimous Consent vote. The bill will come up in regular order.”
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Okay, this isn’t directly related to pork, but it’s a good idea, and it’s certainly in the ballpark:
But if Newmark has his way, there might be a new online venture that most certainly would be of interest to Washingtonians. At a private dinner in Manhattan over the weekend, Newmark expressed an interest in starting a Web site that would track the net worth of politicians while theyâ€™re in office. There are no concrete plans under way yet, but Newmark admitted that heâ€™s done a lot of thinking about the idea recently.
One of the things that sparked Newmarkâ€™s interest in such a project was former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who has seen his own personal fortune grow from roughly $290,000 when he first joined Congress to more than $6 million, 20 years later.
â€œI just donâ€™t see why these guys are amassing personal, private fortunes while in office,â€ Newmark said.
This wouldnâ€™t be Newmarkâ€™s first participation in an online venture designed to increase transparency: On Friday, Newmark announced that he had accepted a full board membership at the Sunlight Foundation, which seeks to â€œreduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy.â€
Yeah, it’s kind of suspicious how these guys always seem to get rich on government salaries.
And here, by the way, is an interesting rumination by Craig Newmark on what he’s learned from Craigslist. I heard it on the radio the other day, but now the audio’s up. It’s worth a listen.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A recent National Journal article (sorry, link is subscriber-only) suggests that lobbyists are worried:
But beneath the surface there was a feeling of anxiety among the lobbyists gathered at Pentagon City’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Va. They had their minds on a rule adopted by the House in January that toughens the process for winning — and will likely restrict — appropriations earmarks. Those are special-interest provisions, ubiquitous in recent years, in which members of Congress direct money to specific projects by inserting narrow, targeted language into spending bills.
Lobbying for earmarks has become a profitable business for many K Street firms. Weapons makers, colleges and universities, hospitals, municipalities, and many other clients pay lobbyists big fees to persuade the right lawmaker to include a pet project or favorite program in an appropriations measure.
The new rule is causing heartburn because it requires lobbyists and members to submit additional paperwork explaining and justifying their earmark requests. At the Murtha bash, said one lobbyist who attended, there was a lot of chatter about the “onerous documentation” now required of those seeking earmarks.
Beyond that, the lobbyist added, 2007 is shaping up as “a perfect storm for defense earmarks.” In addition to the tougher rule — intended to stop ethical abuses that have given earmarks a bad name — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing budget constraints that are sure to reduce the number of defense earmarks in this year’s spending bills.
This is a time of uncertainty for lobbyists who have prospered by capitalizing on the booming earmark business in defense as well as other industries and economic sectors. “We’re warning all our clients that they have to be realistic in their requests in terms of dollars,” said Stewart Van Scoyoc, who attended the Murtha event and is the founder of the 17-year-old firm whose name is often linked with earmark lobbying.
This is music to my ears. Let’s hope the “perfect storm” is as perfect as we can make it.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Meet the Proud Pork Men:
The arrogance of career politicians was on full display today when Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HA) took to the Senate floor to boast of his and Senator Ted Stevensâ€™ (R-AK) long careers of accumulating pork on the backs of American taxpayers. In a tribute to Senator Stevensâ€™ new status as the longest serving Republican U.S. Senator, Senator Inouye declared:
He and I received the crown of being pork men of the year. We are the number one add-ons in the United State Senate. Mr. President, Iâ€™m proud to call Ted Stevens my brother, and I hope that we can continue this brothership for as long as weâ€™re here.
â€œItâ€™s a sad day in America when the longest serving Republican in U.S. Senate history is praised by an even longer serving Senator for setting the record for fleecing American taxpayers of their hard-earned money,â€ Club for Growth President Pat Toomey declared. â€œAfter thirty-nine years in the U.S. Senate, one would have hoped that Senator Stevens would have accomplished something more meaningful than petty parochial pork projects like a $223 million â€œBridge to Nowhereâ€ and a $1.5 million bus stop.â€
â€œInstead of heaping praise on the Senateâ€™s worst porker, the Senate should impose the reform rules requiring 100% earmark transparency that it had unanimously passed earlier this year,â€ Mr. Toomey continued.
Despite the recent elections, the Pork Party remains in control.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Progress on eliminating the “Road to Nowhere” in Tennessee and North Carolina, thanks to newly elected Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler:
Former Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., strongly favored the road and secured $16 million in Congress to resume construction. That money in 2000 was the beginning of an environmental study that is still not complete.
What’s happened now is that Tennessee and North Carolina members of Congress have presented a proposal in a letter to the Interior Department, suggesting a final decision within 90 days. This final decision, according to the letter, would mean not finishing the road and using the $6 million left over from the environmental study for a down payment on the financial settlement with Swain County.
The united front among the congressional members from Tennessee and North Carolina is due in part to the fact that Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., defeated Taylor in November. Shuler grew up in Swain County a mile from what popularly is called the Road to Nowhere, and he won the election in part by strongly opposing the road and favoring the settlement.
“This letter asks for a reasonable settlement which will maintain the undisturbed wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and save the American taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Shuler, a former University of Tennessee and National Football League quarterback.
In Tennessee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, who grew up in Maryville near the mountains, also is a strong opponent of the road.
It’s never seemed like an especially good idea to me. And yes, this is more evidence of how piggishness on pork helped cost the GOP control of the House.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere, even in Alaska:
But all is not well in a city that looks on the new bridge with growing skepticism. Citing the projectâ€™s costs and risk to a local economy whose benefits are â€œcontingent, speculative and not significant,â€ the cityâ€™s planning commission unanimously recommended against going ahead with the project.
Every neighborhood organization that has spoken to the project has recommended against the bridge or demanded guarantees that no Anchorage neighborhood would be harmed in its construction and city funds will not be used to build or maintain the bridge. . . .
The bottom line is that KABATA is completing a final Environmental Impact Statement while watching nervously over Beluga whales in the inlet and trying to sell a bridge that too many Anchorage residents simply donâ€™t want.
But it’s enriching politically connected contractors.
The federal agency that tracked pork-barrel spending during the 12 years of the Republican congressional majority has discontinued the practice since Democrats took power, riling lawmakers suspicious of the timing and concerned about the pace of fat being added to bills.
“To me, something doesn’t smell right,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican. “I just hope no one is pressuring” the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
While not blaming the Democratic leadership, Mr. DeMint added: “I guess if you’re looking for a motive, you’d have to look in that direction.”
CRS, a nonpartisan agency of the Library of Congress created to conduct research for members of Congress on legislative issues, changed its policy in February — a month after Democrats took control of the Congress and vowed to curb the number of special-interest projects inserted into spending bills or even reports that don’t require a vote.
Seems pretty fishy to me, and I wonder why it’s not getting more attention.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: John Fund reports on politicizing the Congressional Research Service to cover up earmarks:
Nothing highlighted Congress’s spending problem in last year’s election more than earmarks, the special projects like Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” that members drop into last-minute conference reports leaving no opportunity to debate or amend them. Voters opted for change in Congress, but on earmarks it looks as if they’ll only be getting more smoke and mirrors.
Democrats promised reform and instituted “a moratorium” on all earmarks until the system was cleaned up. Now the appropriations committees are privately accepting pork-barrel requests again. But curiously, the scorekeeper on earmarks, the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service (CRS)–a publicly funded, nonpartisan federal agency–has suddenly announced it will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number or background of earmarks. “They claim it’ll be transparent, but they’re taking away the very data that lets us know what’s really happening,” says Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. “I’m convinced the appropriations committees are flexing their muscles with CRS.”
Indeed, the shift in CRS policy represents a dramatic break with its 12-year practice of supplying members with earmark data. “CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals,” stated a private Feb. 22 directive from CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan. . . .
Despite claims they would bring reform, Congress’s new bosses are acting like the old bosses. Last Friday, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake sought clarification from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey about an incorrect listing of a NASA earmark in the Iraq supplemental bill. Rep. Obey responded: “The fact is, that an earmark is something that is requested by an individual member. This item was not requested by any individual member. It was put in the bill by me!” In other words, Mr. Obey believes his own earmarks are nothing of the kind.
Sen. Coburn plans to fight back. He says he will attach an amendment to every appropriations bill demanding CRS prepare a full report on the earmarks in it. “Let senators vote for secrecy and prove they don’t want a transparent process or let them deliver what they promised,” he says. “The choice will be theirs and the American people will be watching.”
We need to keep their feet to the fire, and force them to live up to their pre-election promises about earmarks.
UPDATE: House porkers on video.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: USA Today editorializes:
With the House poised to vote as early as today on a $124.1 billion budget bill that would end U.S. involvement in Iraq next year, you’d think House leaders would let such a critical decision ride strictly on its merits.
But Democrats are having trouble rounding up votes for the measure. So the leaders are trying to buy votes the old-fashioned way â€” by luring wavering members with billions of dollars for parochial projects.
These range from providing “risk mitigation” at Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center to storage fees for peanut farmers in Georgia.
It’s hard to say which is worse: leaders offering peanuts for a vote of this magnitude, or members allowing their votes to be bought for peanuts. These provisions demean a bill that, if enacted, would affect the lives of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the balance of power in the Middle East and America’s long-term security.
The provisions also violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new majority’s promise to cut back on “earmarks” â€” provisions slipped into bills that direct your tax dollars to a specific locale or politically favored project.
Last January, as soon as Democrats took control of Congress, the House passed new rules designed to curb earmarks, which had exploded under years of Republican rule. Yet here they go again, just 10 weeks later, including an assortment of dubious expenditures in “emergency” legislation to finance the war in Iraq and the wider war on terror. . . .
A spinach emergency? A peanut storage emergency?
Such arguments ignore what voters, fed up with corruption and ethical lapses, wanted when they threw Republicans out in November and helped Democrats take control of Congress.
UPDATE: Here’s a big roundup of the pork that’s included in this bill.
MORE: Ed Morrissey emails:
Isn’t it interesting that the Democrats — who ran on an anti-corruption, anti-war platform — now offer us a porked-up supplemental to fund the Iraq war?
Low as my expectations tend to be, they’re once again going unmet. . . .
And that the war isn’t a winning issue for the Dems is demonstrated by their eagerness — actually “desperation” is a better word — to get it off the table before November of 2008.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Things seem to be going badly on the anti-pork front:
Not yet three months into their first congressional majority since 1994, the Democrats are acting like the Republicans they condemned for fiscal freewheeling.
In the House, lawmakers are considering the Democrats’ $124 billion war funding bill that not only includes $21 billion for political pet projects, but also establishes an ill-advised Aug. 31, 2008, deadline for bringing the troops home from Iraq.
The legislation, swollen with $3.7 billion in farm subsidies, is expected to be voted on Thursday. It also includes $500 million for wildfire suppression, $283 million in milk subsidies, $100 million for citrus growers, $75 million for peanut storage, $25 million for spinach growers and $15 million for rice farmers. . . .We clearly remember Democrats during last fall’s campaign thundering righteously against Republicans’ special-interest spending, as if they had a record of frugality. That drumbeat, as well as the GOP’s inability to counter the charges, was in large part responsible for the Democrats’ return to power.
Back in power, however, and the Democrats revert to their free-spending ways.
The Democrats talked a good game on pork before taking power. But, then, so did the Republicans.
BUYING VOTES AGAINST THE WAR, in Congress. But don’t question their patriotism — they’re just for sale on this subject like they are on everything else!
UPDATE: Reader Kevin Hawn emails: “Coalition of the bribed! I heard that somewhere, once.” Heh.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Mobilizing in opposition. Count me in, as this involves two things I don’t like — playing defeatist politics with the war, and pork-barrel spending.
MORE: Indeed: “Umâ€¦ I thought the Democrats had a ‘mandate’ on Iraq? Why do they need to buy votes?”
Welcome to the Green Eyeshade Blog. I’m John Campbell, Congressman from the 48th District in California. I am also a Certified Public Accountant.
…I am the chairman of the budget and spending task force for the Republican Study Committee. The Republican Study Committee is a caucus of about 100 of the most fiscal responsible members of the House of Representatives. We are tired of watching both parties spend away our money and our future.
WELL, IF YOU INSIST: “PorkBusters, take a bow. After 20 years of writing editorials denouncing this crap and seeing only occasional success, it is nice to see bloggers take up the cause and carry the ball forward.” But don’t get cocky.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s some good news:
Tax money spent on small projects that only benefit one congressional district or region are often slipped into legislation at the 11th hour â€” a time-worn and much criticized part of Congress known as pork-barrel spending.
Each year the Citizens Against Government Waste exposes that pork in its annual “Congressional Pig Book.” The group had no problem sniffing out the pork this year, although it says it “will be a smaller pig than usual.”
The private, nonpartisan organization says that reduction is a welcome change from past pork-barrel spending levels.
Why the change in 2006 spending? Partly because only two of the 11 proposed spending bills were passed last year, giving legislators fewer places to hide the pork. Also, the new Democratic Congress enforced a moratorium on earmarks, the projects that members slip into appropriations legislation usually without the full scrutiny of Congress.
Pelosi has been pretty good on pork so far. Let’s hope she sticks with that. And certainly the overall reduction in pork is good news.
UPDATE: Does PorkBusters deserve more credit than the ABC article gives it? Probably, but I was trying to be modest . . . .
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This is a pretty substantial victory:
The Federal Railroad Administration is denying a $2.3 billion loan to the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, Rep. Tim Walz announced Monday in Rochester.
The denial, by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Credit Council, was on grounds of creditworthiness. Walz learned of the denial Monday afternoon in a telephone conversation with DOT Secretary Mary Peters.
“This is a victory for good government and accountability,” Walz said. “The citizens of this district demanded close scrutiny of this loan, and they got it.”
The decision outright ends the DM&E’s loan request. There is no appeal process, Walz said.
The railroad sought the loan to finance a $6 billion construction project. DM&E wants to upgrade its entire, 600-mile line through Minnesota and South Dakota, and extend it west to coal fields in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. DM&E would haul coal from there to eastern markets.
More like this, please.
UPDATE: Here’s some background on the deal — and John Thune’s championing there of — for those who haven’t been following it.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: And we have a winner!
Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) today announced the final results of its online poll for the 2006 Porker of the Year. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) received 48 percent of the vote, with co-nominees Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) receiving 25.5 percent, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) receiving 22.9. The finalists were chosen by CAGW staff from among the 12 Porker of the Month winners for 2006.
Rep. Mollohan was named Porker of the Month in April 2006 for abusing his position on the House Appropriations Committee by securing millions of dollars in earmarks that may have benefited him personally. The New York Times (4/08/06) detailed how Rep. Mollohan directed $250 million to five nonprofit organizations that he set up. Rep. Mollohan surrendered his seat as ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee in April.
The competition is stiff.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue:
This budget week, there was one thing on which Democrats and Republicans agreed: It’s time to do something about earmarks. And in a nod to voter disapproval with these special-interest projects, this year Congress will do its pork spending in secret.
Welcome to Congress’s new and dirtier earmark game, in which the big spenders are setting all the rules. In front of the cameras, both parties claim to have found earmark religion, and are talking up a bill that would reform the way Congress asks for billions in goodies for lawmakers’ home districts. Behind the scenes, they’re working feverishly to keep the earmarks rolling, this time using a technique outside of the legislative process and hidden from public view.
Read the whole thing, and remember that we have to keep the pressure up.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The “Favor Factory” is open for business again! Mark Tapscott looks at the impending Congressional porkfest and comments:
Perhaps taxpayers should forward their own funding requests to Taylor. If you do, CC me. I’ll publish the “most worthy” ones here. Maybe we will even have a public vote on them to see which ones ought to be funded and which should be directed to File 13.
That will be more of a public debate than Congress typically gives the vast majority of earmarks.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Examiner editorializes:
Official Washington is playing three-card monte with taxpayers on earmark reform. Among those shuffling the cards are Republicans and Democrats, elected and appointed officials and career bureaucrats. The aim of this con game is to keep taxpayers from seeing what is really happening on earmarks â€” those spending measures anonymously inserted into bills and legislative reports by members of Congress to benefit friends, families and special interests without a public vote on the merits.
Having realized that the demands for reform are genuine, their first effort will be to produce reform that is fake. Only if their feet are held to the fire will they make real changes.
RIDING THE PORK TRAIN WITH JOHN THUNE: PorkBusters is on the case.
I NOTICED that Nancy Pelosi quickly started applause when Bush delivered the line about crossing the aisle when there’s work to be done.
She jumped to her feet when Bush mentioned balancing the federal budget, too. But not when he said “we can do so without raising taxes.”
Boy, the earmark thing is right up front. Cool. (Stephen Green: “Even Congress applauded Bush’s promise to halve earmarks by the end of the session. Yeah, let’s see where that goes, Mr. Reid.”) (LATER: Jon Henke emails from Sen. McConnell’s office: “It is, frankly, a major feather in the cap of Porkbusters and the blogosphere. It was bloggers who brought this to public attention and into the President’s State of the Union address.” That’s nice. Let’s watch for follow-through.)
No Pelosi applause for school choice! But she leaps to her feet for “affordable health care.” Not for private insurance, though.
Pelosi rockets to her feet for reducing gasoline consumption 20% in the next 10 years. But Charles Grassley looks overjoyed at “renewable fuels.” Pork marinated in ethanol?
Pelosi doesn’t jump up for Bush’s recognition of “the serious challenge of global climate change.” Why not?
Terror: On “We must take the fight to the enemy,” it’s Cheney who jumps up. (He can do that?) Pelosi follows much more slowly.
On terror, Bush’s understated delivery, quoting Zarqawi et al., is pretty effective, especially for him. Pelosi jumps to her feet again at the end of this section; I wasn’t expecting that.
Bush’s “root causes” section (“free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies”) seems like the part he’s most into. Cut to Condi looking pretty intense, too. His discussion on Iran’s response to 2005 elections by fomenting trouble in Lebanon, etc., is the kind of spelling-out the Administration should have been doing all along.
He does a good job of spelling out the consequences of losing in Iraq. Cut to shot of Joe Biden looking bored. (Who’s picking these crowd shots — I’m watching ABC — Karl Rove?) Unfortunate Bush smirk during applause.
Best line: “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Pelosi rockets to her feet when he asks Congress to support the troops, and those on their way.
What’s a “volunteer civilian reserve corps?” Not very clear, even after he explains. (Meghan Hammond emails: “volunteer civilian reserve corps ‘sounds like the first step to the draft’ says my brother” — I don’t think so, but this is the price Bush pays for not being clearer.)
Lots of applause for not allowing Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons.
Stephen Green criticizes: “All this ‘surge’ talk strikes me as unnecessary and probably unwise. I don’t remember any stories about FDR talking up D-Day before the fact, and trying to weasel support out of Congress for it.” FDR had a different Congress.
Bush on Africa: Asks for a lot. He’s done a lot, but won’t get much credit, for fighting AIDS and malaria there. Lots of applause, though.
Big windup on “the spirit and character of America.” Not bad, and mercifully brief.
Sum-up: Not bad, especially for Bush, who’s no great shakes as a speaker. His recent speaking events have been weak even by his standards, but this was one of his better speeches. Will it help him? Not so clear. He seemed more comfortable and cheerful while working the crowd than he’s seemed lately, too. [LATER: Charlie Gibson thinks the same thing.]
On substance? The war on terror stuff was good, but his speeches on that are always good, on substance if not delivery. Follow-through has been the weak point. Domestically? He’ll be the best Democratic President since Bill Clinton.
UPDATE: Robert Mayer says that Bush is bringing back democracy as an element in foreign policy.
And Justin Beckley emails: “Is it just me, or does it not look great for America when a coach at Georgetown converts an aspiring med student into a basketball phenom?”
Mary Katharine Ham: “All right, so the best part of the night, by far, is the candid shot Fox has of Bush shaking hands after the speech. The audio’s really good, and you get to hear all the butt-kissing up close. Dennis Kucinich leans in again. The Nutroots will make you pay, Dennis.” [LATER: The netroots noticed.]
MORE: Reader Debbie Eberts emails in response to Justin Beckley: “The reader who was cranky about Dikembe Mutombo becoming a basketball phenom instead of a doctor. Um, did he not read the whole paragraph – ‘Mutombo’s foundation has funded a large portion of a $27 million dollar hospital opening in Kinshasa, which will be the first new hospital in the Congo in 40 years.’ Maybe Mutombo can do more good for health care as a well-paid and famous basketball player than he would have as a doctor. Frankly, I think that speaks very well of America. Lighten up.” He probably didn’t read that, because I added the link so that readers who didn’t watch the speech would know what he was talking about.
MORE STILL: Dean Barnett liked the actual speech more than his SOTU FAQs linked below predicted.
My favorite SOTU is still the one where I was shacked up with the Insta-Wife at a secure, undisclosed location and missed the speech entirely. By that standard, Bush has slipped. . . .
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Earmark reduction will figure in the State of the Union Address. From the pre-release:
Earmarks are provisions included in legislation that are often not subject to legislative or public scrutiny and that often lead to wasteful Federal spending. Earmarks have tripled in number over the last decade and have increased spending by billions of dollars. The President applauds Congress’ progress in requiring the disclosure of the sponsors, costs, recipients, and justification for each earmark, and calls on Congress to go further by enacting comprehensive earmark reform that brings greater transparency and accountability to the Congressional budget process, including:
* Stopping the practice of concealing earmarks in so-called report language instead of placing them in the actual language of the bill.
* Cutting the number and cost of all earmarks at least in half by the end of this session.
PORKBUSTERS 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 Senateâ€™s ethics reform bill by amending it to include the same earmark reform language in the House-passed version. Reidâ€™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.
Thatâ€™s when bloggers took notice. Rallying to DeMintâ€™s defense, a coalition of bloggers, led by Andy Roth at the Club for Growth, documented Reidâ€™s strong-arm tactics. The Examinerâ€™s own Mark Tapscott and Ed Frank at Americans for Prosperity jumped on the story. I posted video on YouTube of Reid and DeMintâ€™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. Itâ€™s Henkeâ€™s job to deal with bloggers, and if there was ever an occasion, this was it.
Read the whole thing.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: There’s more excitement on the Senate floor. Andrew Roth reports:
The Democrats are refusing to allow a vote on an amendment offered by Senator Judd Gregg that would give the President rescission authority, which is similar to the line-item veto.
Reid has been preaching about ethics reform and his strong desire to reduce wasteful spending, but his talk is cheap. He blocked strong earmark reform last week until he was forced to retreat and now he’s blocking a vote on another important measure that would help break the big-spending habits of Congress.
He’s got a number of updates. And Mark Tapscott reports:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, is speaking on the Senate floor as this is written in opposition to allowing the Senate to vote on an amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, to the Senate ethics reform bill.
Gregg’s amendment uses the president’s existing recission authority as a mild version of a line-item veto and is designed to give the President a tool for highlighting wasteful spending and forcing Congress to take a second look at such proposals. The proposal would clearly make it more difficult for Members of Congress to slip wasteful spending like earmarks into legislation.
According to Gregg, the amendment provides that the president can send up to 4 rescission packages per year. Congress would be required to fast track the Presidentâ€™s recommendation within 8 days.
Also, unlike a line-item veto proposal that was defeated in Congress in 1996, Gregg’s amendment today requires congressional affirmation of the Presidentâ€™s rescission package.
Savings from rescissions passed by Congress must be used for deficit reduction. The authority sunsets after 4 years â€“ giving Congress the ability to evaluate merits of rescission authority after President Bush and his successor have had the opportunity to use.
Reid doesn’t want the Senate to vote on the Gregg amendment, which has 30 co-sponsors, including senators from both sides of the aisle.
Incredibly, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, Reid’s majority whip, is claiming Gregg’s amendment is actually a parliamentary trick by the GOP to “bring this ethics bill down.”
I regard the line-item veto as a gimmick, and during the brief period when Clinton had one it didn’t accomplish much. I’m not sure if this is different, though the extent of the opposition from porkmeisters like Reid and Durbin suggests to me that it might be. How’s Trent Lott voting? . . . .
UPDATE: Best argument against the proposal that the Democrats won’t use: The federal deficit is disappearing anyway and will be gone within 18 months. Hmm. Anything big happening about then? . . .
STEPHEN SPRUIELL TAKES A LOOK AT PORKBUSTERS and comments:
Perhaps the biggest success of the Porkbusters movement has been its ability to incorporate the efforts of both left- and right-leaning bloggers, transcending the partisan bickering which characterizes so much of the political blogosphere. â€œThe real split on this stuff is not conservatives vs. liberals or Republicans vs. Democrats. Itâ€™s insiders vs. outsiders,â€ Reynolds says.
And itâ€™s not just the Porkbusters who are bipartisan. Just ask Trent Lott and Harry Reid. As theyâ€™re likely to attest, you can find the Porkbusted on both sides of the aisle.
May it remain so. Given its modest resources, PorkBusters has done pretty well. But there’s a long, long way to go. And I want to stress the importance of lefty outfits like TPM Muckraker and — as Spruiell notes elsewhere — The New York Times in helping to bring this along. It’s truly a nonpartisan issue, as I say above.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: More on Harry Reid, the new Trent Lott:
A beaming Harry Reid last week basked in the adoration of the Democratic Party’s leading Senate reformers and its nine freshman senators. They extravagantly praised the new majority leader as the exemplar of ethical reform. But within 48 hours, Reid was opposing full transparency of earmarks. This week, Republican reformers will target Reid with an amendment to the Senate ethics package.
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the proposal is called the “Reid amendment” because he inadvertently inspired it. Coburn would tighten loose anti-earmark restrictions in the ethics bill by prohibiting senators from requesting earmarks that financially benefit a senator, an immediate family member of a senator or a family member of a senator’s staffer.
The proposal follows the revelation that Reid’s four sons and his daughter’s husband all have been lawyers or lobbyists for special interests. While Reid has declared they are barred from lobbying for their clients in his office, there is little doubt they have taken advantage of their close proximity to a powerful senator.
An example is provided by earmarks that have sent millions of federal dollars to the University of Nevada at Reno. Reid’s son-in-law, lawyer Steven Barringer, was a paid lobbyist for the university. In general, Republican reformers see Reid illustrating the nexus between legislators and special interests, in his case mainly real estate, gambling and mining.
Reid is far from the only prominent member of Congress who would be violating Coburn’s amendment if it passed.
Pay close attention to developments here. Note that Reid’s efforts to derail reform were backed by Lott. I suspect that Reid will prove a similar kind of liability to the Democrats — like Lott, he’s a pretty good behind-the-scenes guy who must now serve as a public face, and who isn’t well-situated for that role.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A look at this week’s Earmark Entertainment:
To Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s credit, House Democrats recently passed ethics legislation that included provisions making earmarks more transparent. The House bill included a broad definition of earmarks, thereby making it harder to hide them in, say, last-minute conference reports. It also requires Members to file a public disclosure form when they request an earmark, and to state that neither they nor their spouses will financially benefit. It’s hard to argue that this is anything but elementary good government.
Unless you are Harry Reid. The ethics reform offered by Senate Democrats contained none of these tougher earmark provisions. So Senate Republicans, led by South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, cheekily took the identical language of the House earmark bill and offered it as an amendment to the Senate version. Numerous Democrats instantly denounced it, apparently unaware (or unconcerned) that the language had been sponsored by Ms. Pelosi.
Democrat Dick Durbin then moved to table the amendment, though he lost by 51 to 46. Of the 46 Senators who voted to banish Ms. Pelosi’s reform, 38 of them were her fellow Democrats. The seven Republicans who went along with Mr. Reid included some of the GOP’s biggest spenders (Trent Lott) and Members of the Appropriations Committee, aka Earmark Central Station. When Senator DeMint then moved to have his amendment accepted by voice vote — which is customary — Mr. Durbin objected. The effect of these procedural run-arounds was to give Mr. Reid more time to twist a few more Democratic arms into killing earmark reform.
By our deadline last night, he still hadn’t succeeded, though Senate sources told us that Mr. Reid was considering filing for cloture on the entire ethics bill, thereby foreclosing a vote on the current DeMint amendment. If he prevails, voters will know just much “fiscal discipline” to expect from the new majority.
Reid is a poor frontman for a campaign against the “culture of corruption.”
AN EVALUATION OF THE PORKBUSTERS CAMPAIGN: Given its low (i.e., zero) budget, it’s been highly cost-effective. But we’ve got a long way to go.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The “100 Hours” is looking pretty lame, as Senate Democrats try to shoot down the Pelosi pork reform proposal. Andy Roth reports:
The Senate is boiling with excitement right now. For background, the Senate is proposing very weak earmark reform rules. In contrast, Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats implemented some very strong earmark rules in the lower chamber last week.
In response, Senator Jim DeMint, who is a very strong advocate for more transparency, figured, â€œLetâ€™s just offer Pelosiâ€™s reforms as an amendment to the Senate bill.â€
It was a very clever strategy. Dick Durbin, the Majority Whip, threw a fit on the Senate floor and offered a motion to table it (kill it).
Let’s be clear about the rich irony here. Senate Leadership tried to kill a bill that House Leadership supported and passed. Harry Reid and Dick Durbin are basically saying that they want their pork no matter what, even if it embarrasses their own party.
So when the motion to kill the bill came to a vote, Durbin and the Democrats lost!
It should be noted that a majority should never offer a motion to table if they arenâ€™t sure they can win. It was very embarrassing. Especially since Durbin was trying to kill a proposal that his Leadership colleagues in the House offered!
Anyways, after the motion failed, DeMint asked for a voice vote, which is common. It’s basically used to save time since de facto support of the bill was decided when the motion failed. However, Big Ted Kennedy objected, which is all that it needed to skip a voice vote.
The Dems are now off the floor whipping the hell out of their members for when they take a real roll call vote later this afternoon.
And now they’re back. Roth is updating, and this looks like a real embarrassment. The Democratic reforms in the House don’t mean a lot if the Senate is going to vote for business as usual. Harry Reid, apparently, is much less committed to ending the “culture of corruption” than Nancy Pelosi.
UPDATE: More here: “Reid and Durbin are determined to feed at the trough no matter how embarrassing it is to the party.”
ANOTHER UPDATE: TPM Muckraker is pretty hard on Harry Reid: “Showing he can be every bit as bullying to advance a bad idea, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) held open a vote on his watered down earmark reform legislation today in order to round up enough votes to push it through. . . . According to Craig Holman of Public Citizen, Reid’s version, if it had been applied to earmarks as part of legislation passed last year, would have disclosed the sponsor of only approximately 500 earmarks. DeMint’s amendment would have forced sponsors to be known of roughly 12,000.”
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Howard Kurtz looks at deficit politics:
If Bush believes in keeping federal spending under control, why did he sit back and allow his party to pass one pork-laden, budget-busting bill after another while his veto pen rusted? Even many Republicans grew disenchanted with their party’s belated embrace of big government.
Which brings me to the Democrats.
They ran in ’06 as the party of fiscal sanity, and delivered last week by restoring the pay-as-you-go rules in the House. This means no new spending can be approved without cutting other spending or raising taxes.
The problem is that this will prevent the Dems from delivering on other promises they’ve made on health care and other issues. And the truth is, you get very little public credit for reducing the deficit. It’s an abstraction to most people. Ross Perot helped make it an issue in 1992, but other than in that brief interlude, politicians know it’s easier to win reelection by pointing to new (and costly) initiatives than a reduced flow of red ink.
I’d like to see more outside pressure on this topic, and I think it’s important to test the actions of both Bush and the Congressional Democrats against the promises they’ve made about deficit reduction.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Andy Roth reports that Jim Moran seems to be paying the price for his pre-election pork promise that: â€œWhen I become chairman [of a House appropriations subcommittee], I’m going to earmark the shit out of it.â€
Moran in fact got shut out of the subcommittee chairmanships. That’s probably a good sign, suggesting that the Democratic leadership is at least ashamed of pork, something that the GOP leadership wasn’t for most of the last Congress. Unfortunately, as Roth also notes, the records of those who did get important Appropriations positions aren’t all that great. Still, this counts for something, I guess.
Republican leaders left behind just enough spending authority to keep the government operating through mid-February, less than halfway through the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Democrats have signaled that when they take control of Congress in January they will extend that funding authority for the remainder of the year based largely on the previous year’s spending levels, which will result in many cuts in programs.
The Democrats also will do something that is certain to anger many lawmakers but cheer critics of excessive government spending: They will wipe out thousands of lawmakers’ pet projects, or earmarks, that have been a source of great controversy on Capitol Hill. In the past, lawmakers have peppered individual spending bills with earmarks benefiting special interests. But the funding resolution the Democrats intend to pass in lieu of spending bills will be devoid of earmarks.
Sounds good to me! It’s early yet, but the Democrats are looking good so far.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: I agree with The New York Times’ editors, who write:
For all the worthy proposals for ethics reform being hashed out by the incoming Congress, a heavy dose of Internet transparency should not be overlooked in the effort to repair lawmakersâ€™ tattered credibility. The technology is already there, along with the publicâ€™s appetite for more disclosure about the byways of power in Congress.
The Web is increasingly wielded by both campaign donors and bloggers clicking and tapping as wannabe muckrakers. Politicians would be wise to catch up. . . .
Much more than disclosure is needed to cure the Capitolâ€™s ills â€” particularly some sort of independent agency to prod Congress to fully investigate corruption allegations. But prompt, searchable postings of basic data â€” from lobbyistsâ€™ itineraries and expenses to incumbentsâ€™ donor ties and legislative labors â€” should be part of any corruption cure. In the information age, this amounts to a modest proposal for a Congress truly intent on reform.
I think Congress should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, too.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Well, I wouldn’t have believed this possible:
Sen. Robert Byrd has built a reputation in Congress and in West Virginia using special interest funding to bring federal jobs and money home, but the king of pork said he’s willing to give up his projects for 2007 to find a way out of the ” fiscal chaos” left by the outgoing Republican-led Congress.
Byrd, incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and his House counterpart Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin outlined their plan late Monday to pass a yearlong stopgap spending bill to keep government programs and agencies functioning until Sept. 30, 2007. To expedite the process, Byrd and Obey said they would eliminate earmarks — funding inserted into bills by lawmakers for projects in their district or states — from the unfinished budget.
Robert Byrd giving up on pork? What’s next — Chuck Schumer avoiding TV cameras? All joking aside, however, this is a big deal and the Democrats will deserve considerable praise if they deliver on these promises.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Mark Tapscott reports:
That amendment requiring the Pentagon to publish an annual report grading anonymous earmarks inserted by Members of Congress into defense spending bills was defeated in the House this afternoon on a 330-70 vote.
The vote is among the last official acts of the Republican majority in the House and ends an effort in the departing Congress to force Members to put their names on earmarks they sponsor.
Earmarks direct executive departments and agencies to spend tax dollars on projects without competitive bidding or other normal processes designed to prevent waste, fraud and corruption.
Now-former Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-CA, pled guilty earlier this year to multiple counts of accepting bribes from a defense contractor in return for earmarks in military spending bills.
A reason to miss the GOP majority just a bit less — though opposition to reform here is, as usual, distressingly bipartisan. Nancy Pelosi, along with many, many Democrats, voted against the bill.
News came in yesterday that Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint had successfully negotiated a clean continuing resolution for the remaining appropriations bills in the Senate. There were talks with GOP Leadership and the big-spending appropriators to attach a clean Military Quality approps bill to the CR, but the appropriators balked, refusing to let a couple of freshman senators push them around. In the end, ironically and deliciously, a couple of freshman senators pushed them around.
The result, Roth reports, is that 10,000 pork projects have been blocked.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Ed Morrissey has some useful thoughts on pork:
Are Americans in love with pork? I find that hypothesis doubtful. Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has crusaded against pork in Congress, ran on an explicitly anti-pork platform in Arizona for his re-election campaign. He promised to keep pork from flowing into his district — and he won re-election by a margin of 74%-26%, outpolling his challenger by 71,000 votes out of 147,000.
Why did Flake win? Voters in his district understand that pork and earmarks are the gateway drug to corruption. Every major corruption scandal has revolved around earmarking federal funds for grants and contracts to specific entities, who have returned the favor by showering the politicians with favors, gifts, and cash — plenty of cash. Bribery does not work as easily on the macro level in Congress, because it takes so many votes to get a bill passed. Instead, corrupting influences focus on gaining federal money through amendments and earmarks because those are routinely carried as a professional courtesy into the final version of the legislation.
If one cares about clean government, then one has to oppose pork and the earmarking process. At the very least, the process should be stripped of its anonymity and exposed to the taxpayers who foot the bill. If we can stop earmarks, then we can limit the damage possible from corrupt politicians. We need to promote more Jeff Flakes for office, and fewer Robert Byrds, Trent Lotts, and Ted Kennedys.
Read the whole thing.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This seems like good news:
Had the appropriators challenged Coburn and DeMint, their only weapon would have been to threaten to shut the government down (if the spending bills aren’t allowed to pass and a CR is not issued, the government is forced to shut down). And that was something they weren’t willing to commit to.
So…if Congress does pass the CR as is currently expected in December, and the Democrats subsequently extend it for a full year, then Coburn and DeMint will have unilaterally saved taxpayers a whopping $17 billion!
$17 billion here, $17 billion there, pretty soon you’re talking big money.
CRAIG NEWMARK notes that PorkBusters-style transparency is starting to catch on in Britain.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This sounds promising:
Democrats aim to open the next Congress in January with a new rule that identifies lawmakers who use legislative “earmarks” to help special interests â€” a change Republicans promised but didn’t implement.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said her first agenda item after being elected House speaker will be a vote to require sponsors of earmarks to be identified. Currently, lawmakers can remain anonymous in sponsoring an earmark, which is language in a bill that directs funds or tax benefits to a business, project or institution.
“There has to be transparency,” the California congresswoman told USA TODAY last week. “I’d just as soon do away with all (earmarks), but that probably isn’t realistic.”
Let’s keep an eye on this — if it works out, it would be a good thing. And yeah, I know that Pelosi’s done plenty of earmarking herself, but that’s not the point. If a former earmarker couldn’t support earmark reform, there wouldn’t be very many votes on the good guys’ side . . . .
But where does John Murtha fit in?
UPDATE: Another soiled angel who needs reforming — the Los Angeles Times reports:
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vows to make reform of congressional earmarks a priority of his tenure, arguing that members need to be more transparent when they load pet projects for their districts into federal spending bills.
But last year’s huge $286-billion federal transportation bill included a little-noticed slice of pork pushed by Reid that provided benefits not only for the casino town of Laughlin, Nev., but also, possibly, for the senator himself.
Reid called funding for construction of a bridge over the Colorado River, among other projects, “incredibly good news for Nevada” in a news release after passage of the 2005 transportation bill. He didn’t mention, though, that just across the river in Arizona, he owns 160 acres of land several miles from proposed bridge sites and that the bridge could add value to his real estate investment.
Reid denies any personal financial interest in his efforts to secure $18 million for a new span connecting Laughlin with Bullhead City, Ariz.
Where was the LAT on this stuff back before the elections? (Via Mickey Kaus, who also notes Murtha’s “energetic 1980 efforts to bring jobs to his District. “)
ANDREW SULLIVAN CRITICIZES ME for not voting for Harold Ford, Jr., saying that a libertarian would have supported him.
But Ford voted for the detainee military commissions bill, which Sullivan regards as anathema. And he took a hard-line stance on immigration. As for spending and pork, which Sullivan also mentions, both Ford and his opponent, Bob Corker, say they support spending reforms, porkbusters, and increased transparency. Ford also supports public display of the ten commandments, a ban on flag burning, and says he’s closer to Bush than McCain on military interrogations. I don’t understand Andrew’s views on what constitutes libertarianism but this wouldn’t seem to fit. (According to Wikipedia, Ford also supported a ban on same-sex benefits, and a ban on gay marriage, which makes me wonder what, exactly, makes Andrew so enthusiastic — Ford’s a nice guy, but to suggest that he’s more libertarian on the issues is absurd; by Andrew’s somewhat overexcitable standards he’s a pro-torture, homophobic Christianist!)
As for the “outing” business, I’ll admit that Republicans run on opposition to gay marriage, etc. — but so do Democrats (see John Kerry and Ford, above). And deliberately targeting individuals’ sex lives as a form of political blackmail seems to me to be nastier than policy positions with which, alas, most Americans agree.
Unlike Andrew, I’ve actually paid attention to this race, instead of merely forming phantoms of my own imagining. Which is why I voted as I did. In the meantime, I’ll view his comments on politics with increased skepticism, given the ignorance and inattention on display here.
UPDATE: Frank J. prefers the suggestion of reader Brian Gates, below: “An all Frank J. Congress would be awesome! No one could stop me from filibustering!”
I suppose that would be the true libertarian alternative . . . .
PRAISE FOR PORKBUSTERS, and proposals for spending reform, from George Allen at RedState.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: FedSpending.org, a new transparency website created by OMB Watch, lets you search over $12 Trillion of federal spending for free.
You can also see a webcast of its unveiling here.
Bit by bit, this stuff is becoming more accessible. Will that make a difference?
It will, if people want it to make a difference.
And they should.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: John Murtha, PorkMeister!
Outside Washington, Mr. Murtha, a Vietnam veteran and longtime hawk, may be best known for his break with the president over the Iraq war last fall. But inside the Capitol, he is best known for turning earmarks into power. As the top Democrat on the House military spending subcommittee, he often delivers Democratic votes to Republican leaders in a tacit exchange for earmarks for himself and his allies. . . .
Earmarks — often buried deep in complex bills by unidentified lawmakers — have come under new scrutiny since the conviction last fall of Representative Randy Cunningham, a California Republican on the defense-spending panel who accepted more than $2.4 million in bribes from contractors. The cost of earmarks has tripled in the last decade to about $64 billion a year, according to the Congressional Research Service. Mr. Murtha and other lawmakers say many earmarks are worthwhile, but critics charge that they waste taxpayers’ money, encourage cronyism and foster self-dealing.
Some members of Congress complain that earmarks corrupt lawmaking in other ways. “They are used as internal bribery in order to get members to vote for a piece of legislation they wouldn’t ordinarily give two minutes to,” said Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
No one is more adept at such trading than Mr. Murtha, say current and former members, Congressional aides and outside observers.
I guess it’s too much to hope that Diana Irey will oust him this fall, though I see that she’s making an issue of the pork.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Senators Coburn and Obama write about the transparency bill:
If nothing else, this activism and this bill are a testament to a hunger that exists in America today. It’s a non-partisan hunger for a government that’s honest and open — one that spends our hard-earned tax dollars wisely, efficiently and transparently. The scandals of the last few years have shaken the American people’s faith in this kind of government, and if we hope to restore that faith, bills like this will have to stop being the exception and start becoming the rule. . . .
We know of other small, but important, steps we can take. More than a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, there are still no-bid contracts being awarded to companies with questionable spending practices. The process by which Congress awards earmarks is still fraught with waste and abuse. And now that Jack Abramoff has faded from view, Washington seems incapable of passing reforms that were once thought to be inevitable.
The movement that helped pass this bill proves that the American people want to participate in this debate, that they’re demanding more from our politics, and that they believe this begins with a government that is responsive and accountable to the public.
This movement also demonstrated that even in our polarized political culture the American people can forge a consensus and achieve real results. One Web site won’t change government overnight, but the widespread support it received, the swiftness with which it was passed, and the steps it will take to reconnect citizens with their government are all real and welcome signs of hope.
It was a small step, but a useful one. We need many more steps, though.
THE DETAINEE TRIAL BILL has passed, in a form that seems to be pretty close to what the White House wanted, though I haven’t read the actual bill:
Earlier, the Senate narrowly rejected an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that would have allowed suspected terrorists to challenge their detention in federal court. Senators voted 51 to 48 against the amendment, which called for deleting from the bill a provision that rules out habeas corpus petitions for foreigners held in the war on terrorism. The writ of habeas corpus, which is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, allows people to challenge in court the legality of their detention, essentially meaning that they cannot be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
The issue was one of the most contentious in the bill, which authorizes the president “to establish military commissions for the trial of alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses. . . .” Under the rules in the bill, statements obtained from a detainee by torture would not be admissible as evidence, but information extracted using harsh interrogation methods that violate a ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” would be allowed if they were obtained before the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 went into effect on Dec. 30 and if a judge found them to be reliable and in the interests of justice.
The proposed legislation would also set the parameters for interrogating terrorism suspects. It bars the president from authorizing any interrogation techniques that amount to war crimes, which it says include torture, murder, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse, serious bodily injury, hostage-taking, biological experiments and cruel or inhuman treatment. However, the president could “interpret the meaning and application” of Geneva Convention standards regarding less severe interrogation methods, the Associated Press reported.
Under a compromise reached last week with three recalcitrant Republican senators, the bill omits a provision sought by Bush that interpreted U.S. obligations under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Critics said that provision amounted to redefining a key part of the conventions and would put captured U.S. troops at risk if an enemy decided to do the same.
The last argument is silly, as we haven’t had an enemy that respected the Geneva Conventions in my lifetime, and aren’t likely to have one any time soon. And if our enemies’ disregard for the laws of war doesn’t justify us acting similarly, then it’s not clear why any behavior on our part would justify a departure from the Conventions on the part of some hypothetical future enemy.
As for the rest, I don’t understand the admissibility of evidence before December 30. It seems to me that it’s either wrong or it’s not, and that an arbitrary date doesn’t make wrong conduct right, or right conduct wrong.
I’ve seen some people calling this an abolition of habeas corpus, but as I understand it, habeas is suspended only with regard to non-citizens. This removes a key danger of abuse, since the potential politically-motivated abuses that are most worrisome involve U.S. citizens, not aliens. And Congress quite explicitly has the Constitutional power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, though whether this counts as a “suspension” of the writ is open for debate. Like Orin Kerr, I’m not an expert on habeas and thus don’t have a lot more to say about it.
At any rate, I can’t say I’m surprised that it worked out this way, as this is pretty consistent with polls I’ve seen on public attitudes. Congress has acted, and the political system seems pretty much in agreement, both between the legislative and executive branches, and between those branches and the electorate.
Meanwhile, the locus of criticism of the legislation, the Democratic opposition, and more can be found at Balkinization. Go there for lots of critiques and complaints.
The differences between the proposals were fairly important, but what was really momentous was their similarity. On several fundamental points, a consensus has taken shape.
First, torture should be legally off-limits, period, regardless of circumstances. Hardly anyone says otherwise.
Second, some kind of special and secret system for detaining and interrogating high-value terrorism suspects is justifiable and necessary. In a statement on September 6, Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “I support the continuation of a CIA detention and interrogation program, but it must be operated in a lawful manner.” No prominent Democrat, or Republican, was heard to disagree.
Finally, general agreement exists that the central purpose of a detention and interrogation system is to prevent terrorism, not to prevent torture. That point may sound trivial, but it is not: Many human-rights advocates believe that the foremost responsibility of any detention system is to treat detainees humanely. On Capitol Hill, both parties reject that view. In its way, this is a seminal decision.
Read the whole thing, which — as with all of Rauch’s work — is worth reading.
MORE: According to an email published by Jonah Goldberg, the bill doesn’t just apply to aliens. That conflicts with the report above, and with my understanding, and with a piece I heard on NPR this morning. But if it’s true, it’s a major problem with the bill, one that increases the likelihood ofits being found unconstitutional, and one that would make me much more unhappy with the bill.
MORE STILL: Jonah has a followup indicating that the above is in error, and that the bill applies only to aliens.
That kind of yanks the rug out from under this post by Andrew Sullivan, too. But I think that we’re seeing the instantiation of what I warned him about nearly two years ago. (“I think the effort to turn this into an anti-Bush political issue is a serious mistake, and the most likely outcome will be, in essence, the ratification of torture (with today’s hype becoming tomorrow’s reality) and a political defeat for the Democrats.”) Meanwhile, his gratuitious slap at PorkBusters seems more peevishly jealous than anything else. But PorkBusters has worked because it is bipartisan, focuses on the goal rather than the bloggers pushing it, and tries to treat people (except, perhaps, occasionally Trent Lott) with some minimal courtesy, an approach that Andrew might consider emulating in his next crusade.
And here’s a post by Jack Balkin saying that the habeas-stripping procedures only apply to aliens, but that other provisions regarding unlawful combatants may apply to U.S. citizens. I tend to agree that to the extent this is true it is probably unconstitutional, though I haven’t studied this issue to nearly the extent that Jack has.
Plus, some useful thoughts from Eugene Volokh.
HEADING HOME: And hoping my flight is better this time. I stopped by the Capitol briefly to meet with Bill Frist (we talked about podcasting, PorkBusters followups, etc.), and on the way through security saw some Cynthia McKinney fallout: An officer of the Capitol Police was telling some of his troops that they should check ID on everyone, and not worry if members of Congress complained; I got the impression that this is still a contentious issue, as they seemed pretty unhappy. Jeez. There are 535 members of Congress, most of whose constituents probably couldn’t pick them out of a lineup, and every officer of the Capitol Police is supposed to know them on sight? The rest of the country has had to make adjustments to security. So should Congress.
EN ROUTE TO DC for the National Press Club event on partisanship and politics. I’ll also be at the White House for tomorrow’s Porkbusters bill signing. I’ll report on all of that but blogging may be light for a bit as I travel.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: These guys just don’t give up, do they:
Over at my site earlier this week, I reported that Trent “Damn Tired of Porkbusters” Lott was holding up a bill to force Senate candidates to file campaign finance reports electronically (S. 1508). It appears he’s still doing it, and doesn’t want to tell anyone when he might quit quit bucking and braying and move the d*mn bill. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn he is.
So is Mitch McConnell. Unlike some, I’ve got no problem with McConnell’s opposition to McCain-Feingold. But his opposition to legislation that merely promotes transparency about donations undercuts any free-speech resonance that his opposition to the dumb McCain-Feingold bill might have.
UPDATE: McConnell’s office says that, despite reports to the contrary, he does not have a hold on the campaign-finance transparency bill and has no objections to its coming to the floor.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Over at TPM Muckraker, Justin Rood notes that a Democratic victory in the House elections won’t do much to end pork and corruption:
Washington has witnessed a storm of “pay-to-play” corruption scandals in Congress over the last year, both admitted and alleged. And on the campaign trail congressional Democrats are charging the GOP with creating a “culture of corruption” on their watch. Yet if they win, they are poised to hand a much-abused spending post to a Democrat with a long reputation for porkbarrel politics and “back room” deals.
If the Dems take control of the House in November, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), now lauded by Democratic activists for his tough stand on Iraq, is poised to retake the helm of an appropriations panel charged with spending hundreds of billions of dollars on defense-related projects, which he last chaired in the early 1990s. He may even ascend to be Majority Leader in a Democratically controlled House.
Yet Murtha — who U.S. News and World Report once called “one of Capitol Hill’s most accomplished masters at the art of pork” — presides over a tightly connected network of favored lobbyists, former staffers and major campaign contributors that bears a striking resemblance to those maintained by some of the tarnished Republicans he would likely replace.
Read the whole thing, which is full of interesting specifics. This is a bipartisan issue, as the “culture of corruption” is not the culture of a party, but the culture of a political class.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The next blogger transparency swarm has begun:
Bloggers played a central role in Congress’ quick action over the past two weeks in passing a bill that would create a database on federal grants and contracts. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
The conservative-oriented Porkbusters coalition started that effort, but blogs of other political leanings, including GOPProgress and TPMMuckraker, eventually joined the fight and pushed it to completion.
Transparency fostered the nonpartisan unity in the blogosphere, and that same goal is behind the new effort that surfaced today. A column in The Washington Post about the lack of electronic access to the campaign filings of Senate candidates prompted a quick reaction from bloggers in both parties, including two who were key players in the 2005-2006 blog swarm over campaign finance rules.
Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters was first out of the gate in arguing that the blogosphere’s next bipartisan demand should be forcing Senate candidates to file electronically, just as House and presidential candidates already do.
“For some reason, Trent Lott and a number of our elected representatives in the Senate want to keep us from accessing that information in a timely manner,” Morrissey wrote. “Usually that means they either have something to hide or see the clunky, slow process currently in use as a hedge for their incumbency. We need to remind them that they serve at our pleasure, and that playing games with full disclosure does not please us in the least.”
Within hours, both Mike Krempasky of RedState and Adam Bonin, a lawyer who represented three Democratic bloggers before the FEC, were on the case. “There’s a bill to fix this, of course. And unfortunately for our side, it’s one of our guys holding it up,” Krempasky said of Senate Rules Committee Chairman Lott, R-Miss.
“So please, get on the phone and call Senator Lott’s office. … Make sure they know that [the bill] deserves a hearing — and deserves a vote.”
Bonin posted his thoughts at MyDD. “There is not much on which the left and right blogospheres agree, except, perhaps, on the ability of the Internet itself to transform politics,” he wrote. “It empowers the masses and provides for greater transparency in government, allowing citizens to have a greater understanding of and power over what’s going on in Washington.”
That same belief also explains a new blog entry at Dollarocracy, a blog of the Sunlight Foundation, which has been working with Porkbusters to expose the lawmakers who are behind earmarks in spending bills.
Read the whole thing. And there’s more here. If you’d like to call Trent Lott, call 202.225.3121 and ask for his office.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: John Fund looks at earmarks and corruption:
If Republicans lose big in November, one reason will be their tardy response to public outrage over profligate spending. The guilty pleas of former GOP Rep. Duke Cunningham and lobbyist Jack Abramoff prompted demands for reform of the earmarks–pork projects members often secure in secret–that were prominent in both scandals.
On Thursday, the House did finally pass a rules change that will force sponsors to attach their names to projects. The Senate isn’t expected to follow suit, meaning earmark reform there must wait until next year. On the plus side, both houses this month did pass the Federal Transparency Act. It creates a public Internet database that will allow Google-like searches of the $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts and loans. The “shame factor” the bill will heighten is needed, given that earmarks grew tenfold between 1990 and 2005.
As modest as it is, the transparency bill spent much of August in limbo after Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska, chief defender of the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” put a hold on it, using the tradition allowing any senator to secretly block a bill. These games feed the perception of an out-of-touch Congress and demoralize many GOP voters. “Every event I go to, someone complains about overspending and pork,” says Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana, one of the most embattled GOP incumbents. “They still don’t think we get it.”
Many members simply don’t believe the political costs of pork can ever exceed the benefits. Democrats have been largely silent. After all, they get about 45% of them even as a minority. “One man’s pork is another man’s steak,” is how many members dismiss reform.
The reforms passed this year were modest, but helpful. (The lame criticism that they don’t go far enough is true, but lame, especially when offered — as it usually is — by members of Congress who didn’t actually work for any reform.) It’s important to keep the pressure up, though.
Fund has this to say, too, which should be required reading in the White House:
President Bush could also do more. Republican Sen. Jim DeMint notes that the Congressional Research Service has found that 95% of recent earmarks were slipped into committee reports and not written into law. “These non-legislated earmarks are not legally binding,” he says. “President Bush could ignore them. He doesn’t need a line-item veto.”
The federal government is now an astounding 185 times as big in real terms as it was a century ago. A general sense that Republicans have forgotten why they were sent to Washington is a big reason why only 43% of Republicans approve of Congress in this month’s Fox News poll. If Republicans can’t better explain how they plan to get a grip on spending, many voters will conclude they both deserve and need a time-out from power.
Agencies won’t stand up to Congress on that committee report language, unless the President makes them, as they fear budgetary retribution. Bush needs to show some backbone on this, or Republicans will lose. And deserve to.
UPDATE: Here’s more from The Examiner:
Now with Coburn-Obama, every citizen with access to the Internet will be within a few mouse clicks of knowing where their tax dollars are going and who is benefitting from them. Such access moves our democracy beyond Government 1.0 web sites that mainly just provide passive information and encourages more active and informed citizenry. Call it the dawn of Government 2.0. It is especially fitting that a database of federal spending — the blood flow of governance — marks the opening of the new era. . . .
The experts will do well to study the campaign for Coburn-Obama closely for several reasons, not the least of which are that from the beginning it included people and groups from across the political spectrum and the fact that the Internet gave them unprecedented power to assess the situation at any given moment, distribute key information throughout the ranks of supporters and media and generate highly focused action wherever it was most needed. Old media was mostly on the sidelines throughout.
Indeed, though CNN and the Wall Street Journal provided some excellent ongoing coverage, as did the National Journal blogs — though I guess those are more new media than old.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: THE EARMARK-REFORM RULES CHANGE has passed the House 245-171. This is an excellent day.
Neither this, nor the passage of S. 2590 this week, means that the problem of wasteful — and often corrupt — pork has been solved. But it does mean that a much greater dose of transparency has been applied, and I think that’s likely to make a very significant difference.
How big a difference, of course, will depend on the extent to which people continue to pay attention.
UPDATE: Here’s a list of how they voted. You might want to let your Rep. know how you feel about his/her vote.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The White House has issued a statement from President Bush on the reform:
I applaud the House of Representatives for voting again this week in support of greater transparency and accountability in government. H.R. 1000 would shine a brighter light on earmarks by requiring disclosure of the sponsors of each provision. This reform would help improve the legislative process by making sure both lawmakers and the public are better informed before Congress votes to spend the taxpayers’ money.
I’m told the White House regards this as “a good first step.” Indeed.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The earmark reform legislation has passed the House and Senate, but there’s also an important House rules change up for a vote today, and House Appropriators are balking because it is likely to undercut their power by making them more accountable.
Meanwhile, I’m told by the folks at Americans for Prosperity that these members of Congress ought to hear from concerned constituents on the subject. You can call (202) 224-3121 and ask for them by name if you’re from their district:
Jerry Lewis, CA (R – Chairman)
C. W. Bill Young, FL (R)
Ralph Regula, OH (R)
Harold Rogers, KY (R)
Frank R. Wolf, VA (R)
Jim Kolbe, AZ (R)
James Walsh, NY (R)
Charles H. Taylor, NC (R)
David L. Hobson, OH (R)
Ernest J. Istook, Jr., OK (R)
Henry Bonilla, TX (R)
Joe Knollenberg, MI (R)
Jack Kingston, GA (R)
Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, NJ (R)
Roger F. Wicker, MS (R)
Todd Tiahrt, KS (R)
Zach Wamp, TN (R)
Tom Latham, IA (R)
Anne Northup, KY (R)
Robert Aderholt, AL (R)
Jo Ann Emerson, MO (R)
Kay Granger, TX (R)
John E. Peterson, PA (R)
Virgil Goode, VA (R)
John Doolittle, CA (R)
Ray LaHood, IL (R)
John Sweeney, NY (R)
Don Sherwood, PA (R)
Dave Weldon, FL (R)
Michael K. Simpson, ID (R)
John Abney Culberson, TX (R)
Ander Crenshaw, FL (R)
Dennis R. Rehberg, MT (R)
John Carter, TX (R)
Rodney Alexander, LA (R)
If one of ’em is yours, you might want to let them know how you feel.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The earmark reform legislation has passed the House (identical legislation was already passed in the Senate) so it’s now heading to the President’s desk. Here’s an email from the Majority Whip’s office:
WASHINGTON—Legislation championed by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) to increase budget accountability and transparency by establishing a public database to track federal grants and contracts passed the House tonight by voice vote. . . .
The federal government awards approximately $300 billion in grants to roughly 30,000 different organizations annually. Each year, roughly one million contracts exceed the $25,000 reporting threshold. The Blunt-Davis bill will ensure that those expenditures are readily accessible to the media, the public, and Members of Congress.
The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act will:
Eliminate Wasteful Spending by empowering everyone with access to the internet to begin reviewing federal grants and other forms of taxpayer assistance for waste, fraud, and abuse;
Ensure Compliance with Federal Law by requiring grantees to also disclose their subgrantees, and
Ensure Compliance with Lobbying Restrictions by identifying entities receiving federal grants that would be subject to lobbying restrictions in existing law.
With House passage of S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, and the enrollment correction containing the House-Senate compromise agreement, the final bill will now go to the president for his signature.
It’s not the end of the fight against pork, but it’s certainly a very significant step. Congratulations to everyone involved!
The House is expected to tweak the Senate bill’s language to reflect the compromise language during consideration in the Sept. 11 week and then send the measure back to the Senate for final passage the next week, aides said.
If the measure makes it to President Bush’s desk, it would mark one of the few concrete results of efforts in 2006 to overhaul legislative earmarks and reform lobbying rules. Legislation to curb earmarks has been stalled after gaining momentum in the wake of revelations about lobbyist Jack Abramoff that lead to a scandal, including criminal prosecutions, early in the year (172 DER A-21, 09/6/06 a0b3f6t1q3). With Democratic criticism of budget deficits mounting, passing the database bill could also give Republicans a politically useful accomplishment on the fiscal front as well.
But the bill’s supporters on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 gave much of the credit to outside groups and especially Internet bloggers instead of to their fellow lawmakers. After being hung up for weeks in the Senate under a procedural block known as a “hold,” the bill was dislodged and the holds removed after Web sites and bloggers from across the ideological spectrum sought to identify who was blocking the bill.
On Sept. 7, after Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) had removed one hold, another one, from an undisclosed Democrat, remained. But the hold was lifted early in the evening, and its author never publicly identified. Hart said Coburn staffers did not know the hold had been lifted and the bill had been passed until they got home that evening.
“The group that deserves credit for passing this bill, however, is not Congress, but the army of bloggers and concerned citizens who told Congress that transparency is a just demand for all citizens, not a special privilege for political insiders. Their remarkable effort demonstrates that our system of government does work when the people take the reins of government and demand change,” Coburn said in a statement Sept. 8.
Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy with OMB Watch, said the hunt for senators with holds against the bill–which are not currently required by Senate rules to be publicly identified–showed how veteran Washington advocacy groups and the new world of Web bloggers can coordinate their efforts. The site porkbusters.org asked its readers to ask each senator’s office if their senator had blocked the Coburn-Obama bill.
“I do think it says a lot about a new system for the way public advocacy will work,” Hughes said.
“The bloggers mobilized the Senate. No one in the Senate mobilized the bloggers,” Hart said.
Let’s hope we manage some more mobilizing along these lines.
HERE’S MORE on the earmark transparency bill, from CNN:
Now that the blogosphere has revealed the “secret senator,” bloggers are claiming another victory after a bill authorizing a Google-like database of public spending passed the Senate.
Late Thursday, the senators passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act by unanimous consent after holds from “secret senator” Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, were lifted. . . .
News of the bill’s passage was received triumphantly in the blogosphere, and one of the bill’s orginal co-sponsors, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, credited “the army of bloggers and concerned citizens” for their victory.
Coburn and the bill’s other original co-sponsor, Sen. Barak Obama, D-Illinois, said they had reached agreement with sponsors of the House version, which was passed in June. The House could take up the new language as early as next week.
The Porkbusters podcast interview with House Majority Leader John Boehner can be found here.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The House and Senate have reached an agreement on the earmark reduction bill. House Majority Leader John Boehner reports:
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Barack Obama (Ill.), and Tom Carper (Del.), and Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) today announced that they have reached agreement on legislation to increase accountability and transparency by establishing a public database to track federal grants and contracts. House Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) announced he plans to schedule the agreed-upon language for House floor consideration next week.
“This process has focused on enhancing the accountability and transparency in the federal budget process,” Blunt, Boehner, and Davis said. “The federal government awards approximately $300 billion in grants to roughly 30,000 different organizations. Each year, roughly one million contracts exceed the $25,000 reporting threshold. We need to be sure that money is spent wisely. Our legislation creates a transparent system for reviewing these expenditures so that Congress, the press, and the American public have the information they need to conduct proper oversight of the use of our tax dollars. The package we’ve agreed to move requires the Administration to establish searchable databases for both grants and contracts.”
“I’m pleased that the House leadership agreed with us that all federal spending should be accessible through this website. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grant, an earmark, or a contract, this legislation will allow the public to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Sen. Obama.
It’s a small but important step. It’s worth noting, though, that as important as structural changes like this are, we also need to change the culture. That’s starting to happen, too, but we’ve got a long way to go. Transparency should help with that, though.
Here’s more from Americans for Prosperity. I certainly hope that this part is true: “With this online spending database now headed for reality, I have a feeling that those grassroots taxpayers and bloggers will soon show that they’ve just been getting warmed up.”
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparancy Act, S. 2590 has unanimously passed the Senate.
Take that, secret-holders! Bill Frist reports:
The passage of this legislation is a triumph for transparency in government, for fiscal discipline, and for the bipartisan citizen journalism of the blogosphere.
Without the efforts of ordinary Americans empowered by the Internet, including many hardworking members of the iFrist Volunteers, this legislation might easily have been successfully obstructed. Instead, the unprecedented synergy between online grassroots activists and Senate leadership provides a new model for participatory democracy in action.
I look forward to reconciling S. 2590 with its counterpart in the House and delivering this deserving legislation to the desk of President Bush for his signature.
Onward and upward. Or, in the case of pork spending, hopefully downward.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s the latest on developments, from the Christian Science Monitor:
Facing unprecedented public scrutiny and an election this fall, Congress is under the gun to tighten the rules on the time-honored lawmaker practice of slipping pet projects into legislation – and it has about 30 days left to get the job done.
Both House and Senate leaders pledge to change the rules on lawmakers’ earmarks this month, before Congress breaks for the midterm election. But this week, sticking points emerged, complicating their pledge to push the changes through. . . .
“I don’t think senators realized that people cared so much about transparency and responsiveness,” says Zephyr Teachout, national director of the Sunlight Foundation, a broad-based coalition of groups that mobilized bloggers to identify the source of secret holds.
Public support for change should be credited to former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R) of California, whose vast defense earmark-for-bribe scam – some earning his co-conspirators profit margins in excess of 800 percent – stunned many colleagues and sent him to prison. It also raised the profile on the hidden process of securing funds for member projects and mobilized public-interest groups and bloggers to shine a bright light both on earmarking and moves to reform the process.
Even if negotiations fail to produce comprehensive lobby reform, House and Senate leaders say they will change the rules of both bodies to require disclosure of all member projects and their sponsors.
“One way or another, we will address this issue,” said House majority leader John Boehner, as Congress resumed work Tuesday. “It’s important to use taxpayers’ resources wisely – and important [that] we move forward on reform.”
I think that there will be major backlash if nothing gets accomplished this fall.
CNN’S THE SITUATION ROOM had more on PorkBusters, the Earmark Reform Bill, and the secret hold situation. Hot Air has the video.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: It’s another secret Senate hold — these guys just won’t give up:
Another Democratic senator appears to have placed a “secret hold” on legislation that would pry open the murky world of federal contracting to public scrutiny.
That’s the word that Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn received Tuesday from the Republican cloakroom, the place that tracks who is blocking legislation using the parliamentary maneuver.
The news came soon after Coburn learned that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, had finally lifted his hold on the measure that Coburn and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., introduced in April. The measure would create a searchable database of some $2.5 trillion in federal contracts, grants, loans, insurance and federal assistance each year.
Stevens and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West. Va., both indisputable masters at bringing home the bacon, placed the holds during the August recess. Both lifted them after prominent bloggers began calling senate offices to “smoke out” the senator responsible for holding up the open government bill.
If a Democrat does have a hold then they may have misled the blogger community which ruled out every Democrat except for Byrd last week. Every Democrat is on the record publicly denying that they have a hold on S. 2590. http://porkbusters.org/secrethold.php
If it turns out that a new hold has been placed, that senator might be in hot water with his/her party. That’s because leaders from both parties are urging passage of the bill in a particularly tight election season.
Mark Tapscott thinks the porkers are trying to outlast us:
Looks to me like opponents of Coburn-Obama have decided to see how long the measure’s supporters in the Blogosphere can keep up the campaign of unmasking anonymous holders. There are more than 75 senators who are not co-sponsors of the bill.
If even a dozen or 15 of them agree to place successive anonymous holds after each new holder is unmasked – assuming they are – they could easily exhaust the legislative calendar and perhaps also the Blogosphere, thus effectively blocking consideration of the bill.
And don’t think there aren’t at least that many senators from both parties who would be more than happy to play a role in such a scenario.
Bill Frist has promised to move the bill in September. Will he let these kinds of shenanigans cause him to dishonor his promise?
UPDATE: Frist responds: “My Democrat colleagues have not yet cleared this legislation … but I’m confident that they will do so promptly or pay the consequences of continued obstruction. Now is the time to act on S. 2590. And we will act this September to pass this bill and bring the bright light of public scrutiny to the federal budget.”
And an email from his staff reads: “Senator Frist will not dishonor his promise.”
MORE: I’m told that Senator Stevens has re-activated his hold on the bill.
Apparently, we’re back to having two holds on the bill. [Bumped to top because it’s important.]
MORE STILL: I think we should start pressuring Congress to go forward with the bill and override any holds.
Meanwhile, G.M. Roper thinks Congress needs an overhaul. It’s hard to argue.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Hill reports that members of Congress aren’t just keeping us in the dark — they’re also keeping each other ignorant:
House leaders have vowed to improve transparency in the earmarking system, whether or not Congress passes a broader lobbying reform law this year. But critics note that the proposed reforms would neither eliminate appropriations earmarks nor address the prevalence of earmarks in tax and authorization bills.
Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director for the Appropriations Committee who now works at the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), argues that the lack of transparency stems from a desire among appropriators to keep their colleagues in the dark when it comes to the process for apportioning earmarks.
“If every member of the House has a complete listing of what every other member got, he can immediately begin to compare his standing in the institution, his support of the committee on key votes, and any other factor that might arguably serve as a basis for determining the distribution of earmarks with members of the House who got more than he or she did in earmarks,” Lilly wrote in a column posted on CAP’s website.
Read the whole thing.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: “Busted by the bloggers:”
To the right of the masthead at the Web site porkbusters.org is a quote attributed to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott: “I’ll just say this about the so-called porkbusters. I’m getting damn tired of hearing from them.”
Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) are probably damn tired of hearing from them too, but taxpayers ought to listen up–and applaud. The porkbusters led a pack of bloggers who outed the two senators for bottling up a bill meant to help the public track how its tax dollars are spent. . . .
When they were caught, Stevens and Byrd offered lots of blather about why they were preventing taxpayers from finding out how their money is spent.
Byrd’s office said he just wanted to slow things down so the bill could get a thorough and open debate. Stevens’ staffers said he was concerned about the cost, and he wanted a cost-benefit analysis and assurances that the database wouldn’t create more bureaucracy and blah blah blah. Stevens could have brought all this up while the bill was in committee, but he skipped those hearings.
A more likely motivation: Stevens was mad because Coburn had tried to block a $223 million appropriation for Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” that Stevens inserted in last year’s federal highway bill.
It’s a good day for taxpayers and the bloggers who got to the truth. And a bad day for secrecy in the U.S. Senate.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Despite Republican Sen. Ted Stevens being outed as a secret-hold source, there have been rumors swirling that there’s a Democratic secret hold, too. TPM Muckraker has more:
By this morning, the dogged persistence of hundreds of bloggers and blogreaders garnered denials from 98 senators saying they did not hold up the Coburn/Obama spending transparency database bill. Only one senator, Ted “King of Pork” Stevens (R-AK), has admitted placing a hold on the bill.
But do the math — you’ll find that makes 99 senators. And Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) ain’t one.
That’s right: Byrd, whose penchant for pork would probably win him the Pork Crown if he weren’t saddled with minority status, has for days declined to answer constituents and others who have asked if he put a hold on the spending database proposal, S. 2590.
We have called and emailed his office and press secretary at least a half-dozen times over two days. Yesterday, we were promised a statement by the end of the day; none came. This morning, spokesman Tom Gavin continued to blame Byrd’s travel schedule for the lack of response.
What’s more, staff in the personal and leadership offices of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have been almost uniformly mum on the issue. If Byrd placed a hold on the legislation, he would have had to notify Reid’s office to do so. After several calls and conversations with numerous staffers, Reid spokesman Jon Steinberg would say for the record only that “it’s the policy of our office not to talk about holds.”
Well, Byrd’s not exactly beyond suspicion here. In fact, he and Stevens shared top honors in the PorkBusters Hall of Shame. Maybe they just like the attention!
UPDATE: An idea on turning secret holds into a force for good.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: “Secret Senator” smoked out:
After much speculation, a staffer to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, admitted to Cox Newspapers today that the senator is the lawmaker who placed a “secret hold” on legislation that would open up the obscure world of government contracting to public scrutiny.
Until now, it was a political whodunnit as to who quietly blocked legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would create a searchable database of government contracts, grants, insurance, loans and financial assistance, worth $2.5 trillion last year.
Shockingly, Saunders takes a dig at the blogosphere.
As for Stevens’ claim that he just wants a cost-benefit analysis, Mark Tapscott comments: “If that obvious BS doesn’t get Stevens hooted out the U.S. Senate …. How about we do a cost-benefit analysis of Stevens’ tenure in the nation’s capitol?”
I think he’ll want to put a hold on that . . .
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Daniel Glover has more on the secret hold:
Every August, lawmakers leave Washington for relaxing summer vacations, taxpayer-funded junkets abroad, low-key field hearings and high-dollar fundraisers. In even-numbered years, the few incumbents whose jobs are threatened have more hectic campaign schedules, but for the most part, lawmakers don’t have to answer tough questions in the month whose name is linked to external triumph and internal peace in the Roman Empire.
Not so this August — at least not for the 100 unfortunate souls who happen to hold U.S. Senate seats when bloggers across the political spectrum are in a feisty mood. Those bloggers are hot and bothered not by the temperature and summer humidity but instead by the time-honored Senate tradition known as the “secret hold,” and they are doing their best to break that hold against policymaking accountability.
The procedural hold in this case is on a bill that would create a public, searchable Web site of all federal grants and contracts in an effort to deter pork-barrel spending in lawmakers’ states and districts. Senate tradition allows senators to place such holds anonymously as a way to delay or prevent floor action.
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Ted Stevens?
ANOTHER UPDATE: William Beutler has much more on this.
MORE: Dave Weigel: “If earmarking was a 1970s adult film loop, Stevens would be John Holmes. (Robert Byrd could be Harry Reems.)”
So what, does that make Trent Lott Johnny Wadd?
MORE STILL: Reader Bill Gardner writes: “Under the heading of ’embarrassing trivia I shouldn’t know,’ JW and John Holmes are the same person.”
You’re right, Bill. About all of it! And various other readers sent variations on “Please! No posts that cause us to imagine members of the United States Senate naked!” Good point.
PORKBUSTERS AND THE “SECRET SENATOR” STORY were on CNN tonight. Hot Air has the video.
You can see the video at Hot Air.
Meanwhile, TPM Muckraker reports that the number of Senators denying that they’re behind the “secret hold” has risen to 58.
The circle continues to close! Some readers wonder what happens if the secret-hold Senator just lies about it? Well, if we get to 100 denials, it’s going to be pretty embarrassing for the Senate, which has already had about all the embarrassment it should want in an election year. But I don’t think that will happen.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire has more.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The “secret hold” story has provided an irresistible news hook.
It’s a sign of just how hot an issue pork-barrel spending has become that the biggest game in political Washington this summer is trying to smoke out the senator who is blocking a bill to create a searchable database of federal contracts and grants.
The bill has the support of the Bush administration and activists on widely divergent sides of the political spectrum. It also passed a Senate committee without any objections, so the unknown senator is annoying many people. . . .
Now Porkbusters.org, a Web site dedicated to exposing wasteful government spending, is conducting a public campaign to smoke out the obstructor or obstructors, while blogs on both sides of the political spectrum have weighed in, demanding action on the bill. Mr. Frist has also vowed to get into the act, promising to try to pass the bill again when Congress returns from its break next month.
“For reasons of policy and politics, many bloggers are rightly outraged that S. 2590 was shot down when I attempted to bring it up for a vote prior to the August recess,” Mr. Frist wrote in an entry last week on the blog of Volpac, his political action committee.
Thanks, anonymous Senator!
UPDATE: More here:
The hunt for the senator is turning into a classic political “whodunit,” said Brian Darling, director of senate relations for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative leaning think tank based in Washington.
It could be anyone — Democrat or Republican — Darling said. To place a hold, senators merely have to inform their leader that they don’t want the legislation to move forward, he said.
It remains unclear if the senator responsible will be able to withstand the pressure from the broad array of groups and senators supporting the bill.
Why would a senator be against a database that makes it easy to track what companies are awarded grants, procurement contracts, loans, insurance and financial assistance?
“Somebody has something to hide,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a new Washington-based nonprofit devoted to helping the public understand Congress through the Internet.
Gee do you think? And still more here:
The same Senate rules prohibit those party leaders from disclosing which of them did this dirty deed, and at which senator’s behest. It’s treated like classified information.
It’s troubling enough that Congress functions like this. All the worse is that this is such an important bill that serves the pubic interest. That some would stoop to such depths in opposition to government transparency can only suggests that the awarding of the government contracts and grants the database would track is even more corrupt than anyone had suspected.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Ed Feulner writes:
The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to build an easy-to-use Web database containing detailed information about all the grants and contracts the federal government hands out. This database would allow virtually anyone to see how much money a federal program received and how it spent that money. And, to ensure that public oversight is timely, information about spending would, by law, have to be posted within 30 days of when Congress authorized the money.
“It shouldn’t matter if you think government ought to spend more money or less money,” Obama says. “We can all agree that government ought to spend money efficiently. If government money can’t withstand public scrutiny, then it shouldn’t be spent.”
That makes perfect sense to most people. That’s why the bill has 29 co-sponsors, including staunch liberals, determined conservatives and self-professed moderates. Small wonder it’s moved through the legislative process at what amounts to lightning speed.
The bill was introduced in early April and has already been passed by a committee (the step in the process where senators usually bottle up controversial bills) and placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar.
But one senator doesn’t like it. And that may be enough to derail it, because he (or she) has put a hold on it. A secret hold. How’s that for irony — a secret hold on an open-government bill?
It may not stay that way for long, though. The watchdog group Porkbusters (www.porkbusters.org) is trying to smoke out the offender. It’s urging constituents to call their senators and push them to disavow the hold. Senators who go on record against the hold are “removed from the suspect list.”
Sen. Obama and I disagree on many things. But he’s right about this. The U.S. needs more openness in government, so anyone and everyone can review how Uncle Sam spends our tax money. Good government shouldn’t be held hostage by secret holds.
Lawmakers have the right — indeed, the responsibility — to block legislation they consider bad. But they should always do so publicly, identifying themselves and explaining their actions.
I GUESS PORKBUSTERS IS MAKING PROGRESS: Just a few months ago, Dave Weigel was calling it “the ineffective bloggers’ group Porkbusters.”
Now he’s holding it up as a model of constructive political involvement:
Long-term, honest public pressure can force an administration to make changes or change course on a failed policy. It works on domestic issues: witness the Porkbusters campaign, which has rapped the president and Congress without apologies in an effort to shame them into cutting spending.
The advantage of PorkBusters is that it’s focused on one issue and been nonpartisan, criticizing porkers regardless of party. I don’t think the kind of criticism Weigel’s talking about can say the same, though I agree that it would have been more effective if it could. Anyway, it’s nice to see that PorkBusters’ progress is being noticed.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The “secret hold” story is getting more attention:
In an ironic twist, legislation that would open up the murky world of government contracting to public scrutiny has been derailed by a secret parliamentary maneuver.
An unidentified senator placed a “secret hold” on legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would create a searchable database of government contracts, grants, insurance, loans and financial assistance, worth $2.5 trillion last year. The database would bring transparency to federal spending and be as simple to use as conducting a Google search.
The measure had been unanimously passed in a voice vote last month by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It was on the fast track for floor action before Congress recessed Aug. 4 when someone put a hold on the measure.
Now the bill is in political limbo. Under Senate rules, unless the senator who placed the hold decides to lift it, the bill will not be brought up for a vote.
More and more people are trying to smoke out the “secret holder” though.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Another pro-PorkBusters editorial:
The game goes like this: Each member must pretend to be fiscally responsible. They loudly decry “pork” and/or “fat” in the budget.
However, when it comes to their own district or state what might otherwise be labeled as “pork” turns into a vital public works project.
Therein lies the difficulty. Vital projects and pork projects each happen so frequently that it is difficult to tell the two apart.
But now a disparate group of watchdog organizations have come together in an attempt to provide more transparency to the process. The coalition produced a single database of what are called congressional “earmarks” and each group provides access to that database from its own Web site.
This isn’t all that novel, but the twist is that the coalition wants ordinary citizens to examine the list and to investigate any earmarks that catch their eye and report back via either blog or e-mail.
This operates on the theory that local people may be able to provide the best insights as to the relative merits of a particular earmark.
Plus, a look at pork and agro-terrorism.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: More on pork from the D.C. Examiner:
This tale of two small tech companies in Alexandria perfectly illustrates how damaging the practice of earmarking — anonymously adding spending to appropriations bills without public hearings, open debate or peer review — has become. And not only for taxpayers who foot the bill.
Vibration and Sound Solutions Ltd. received millions for its “Project M” magnetic levitation program, thanks to earmarks submitted by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. The tax dollars kept coming even though the Navy decided five years ago it wasn’t interested in VSSL’s magnetic levitation program.
When federal funds finally dried up earlier this year, Moran campaign contributor and company President Robert Conkling shuttered his Royal Street facility. At that point, according to Department of Defense officials, VSSL had received at least $30 million from the firm’s lone “customer” even though that customer insisted for years it wasn’t interested in the magnetic levitation program.
Moran and Hunter were far from alone in using defense spending for questionable purposes. There were 2,847 earmarks totaling $9.4 billion submitted by members of Congress in the fiscal ’06 defense budget. Not a dime of that $9.4 billion was requested by President Bush or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
You could do a lot with 9.4 billion dollars.
Meanwhile, Bill Frist responds to an InstaPundit post on pork from yesterday. “Many in the blogosphere – left and right – have rallied to support this crucial legislation, which is fitting, for no group better knows the power of technologically empowered grassroots activism. And, for reasons of policy and politics, many bloggers are rightly outraged that S. 2590 was shot down when I attempted to bring it up for a vote prior to the August recess.”
But he doesn’t out the Senator behind the “secret hold” on the earmark reform legislation. I suppose that’s too much to expect, but it’s not too much to hope for. . . .
HAM ON PORK: It’s a PorkBusters videocast from Mary Katharine Ham.
I think some folks in Congress were hoping that this issue would just kind of evaporate over the summer. Sorry, guys.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Washington Examiner weighs in on the Senate’s secret hold on earmark reform legislation:
A Senate staffer — who shall remain nameless here — must have awakened on the wrong side of the bed Monday morning. Said staffer exploded in response to a constituent’s question whether the staffer’s boss was the senator who placed an anonymous hold on S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. . . .
Odds are slim that the real senator or senators behind the anonymous hold will ever come forward voluntarily, even though for years it has been customary in these arcane matters beyond the Senate cloakroom for the identity of such holders to be kept private only so long as necessary to force some sort of compromise on the legislation in question. Compromise is probably not the spirit behind the present anonymous hold.
The problem here, of course, is that federal spending transparency is anathema for too many Democrats and Republicans in government. They think members of the public ought to keep their noses out of how their tax dollars are being spent by the Potomac potentates at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and all the departments and agencies in between. The attitude was epitomized by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s statement that he was “damn tired” of the “so-called porkbusters” because “they’ve been nothing but trouble ever since Katrina.” Those words sound like something you’d expect from a prime suspect in the present mystery, do they not?
UPDATE: Over at the Corner, Andrew Stuttaford warns Republicans:
Stories like this can only add to a “throw the bums out” mentality this fall. And whoever the senator responsible for the “anonymous hold”, the GOP should be under no illusions that – as the party in charge – they will be the ones that end up paying the electoral price.
He concludes, “Are you paying attention, Senator Frist?”
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: An interesting report:
House Republican leaders promise that even if lobby reform stalls – as it has – they will do something to rein in earmarks when they return to Capitol Hill next month.
The reason: There’s too much flak over lawmakers who are cashing in on earmarks – legally, as campaign contributions; illegally, as bribes. Even good projects look bad when they’re muscled into spending bills late in the process, anonymously, and with no competition, debate, or chance to delete them.
Read the whole thing.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A new Wall Street Journal editorial looks at the secret hold on earmarks reform:
Yet most Senators clearly have no desire to shine a light on their spending practices, and at least one — perhaps more — has placed a “secret” hold on the legislation. Normally the architects of these holds are exposed within a few legislative days, but with Congress on recess the masked spender has so far evaded capture and public scrutiny.
Porkbusters, a grassroots outfit that fights government waste, found this untransparent move to stymie government transparency a bit rich, and last week launched a campaign to unveil the blocker’s identity. It has asked its members to call on their Senators to disavow the hold, and the responses are trickling in. The group, which is tracking the results on its Web site (www.porkbusters.org), still has the pictures of 91 Senators under its “Suspect” list. The nine Senators who have denied placing the hold are now listed as “In the Clear”; they are Senator Coburn, Barack Obama, Mary Landrieu, David Vitter, John McCain, Ron Wyden, Richard Shelby, Jim Inhofe and Jeff Sessions.
If Congress insists on spending like there’s no tomorrow, at least the Members could let the voters see what they’re spending it on by passing Senator Coburn’s reform. Will the real secret Senator please stand up?
I’m guessing he or she won’t come forward voluntarily.
UPDATE: This item has produced an angry email to PorkBusters from a Senator’s communications staffer, charging a “guilty until proved innocent” approach. This seems unwise, but I’ll leave out the guy’s name and attribute it to Monday-morning blahs. But here’s some advice.
First, angry emails to bloggers are a bad idea. They usually get reprinted in full.
Second, “guilty until proved innocent” seems a bit strong, but it’s also kind of rich considering that the whole issue stems from Senate secrecy about the people’s business. It’s the Senate’s effort to avoid transparency and accountability that’s at the root of the problem here. Senators conducting Senate business aren’t like individuals going about their private lives — they’re public officials, who work for the public, who are doing the public’s business, not their own. The Senate’s tendency to forget that, and to wallow in its own sense of entitlement, is what’s wrong here. Complaints like this one just underscore that.
There’s YouTube video of the bridge, and much more, right here.
I hope that other people will post video and photos of pork projects in their areas. Let the sun shine in!
MARK TAPSCOTT RESPONDS to the PorkBusters critics.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Washington Post reports:
A coalition of odd bedfellows is trying to bring more transparency to earmarking by encouraging citizens to get involved in tracking who is trying to get what money for which special interest. And all of this will be online and available to the public.
The coalition includes the Sunlight Foundation, Citizens Against Government Waste, Porkbusters.org, Human Events Online and the Washington Examiner newspaper. They created a single database of earmarks, but each organization is presenting the database on its own Web site and asking the public to participate in different ways. Generally, however, they are asking citizens to investigate the earmarks that grab their attention, then report back. They plan to share their information with each other.
Nice to see that people are noticing. There’s more information here. Dig in!
PorkBusters is also trying to find out who’s behind the “secret hold” on the Coburn/Obama earmark reform legislation. I’m guessing that it won’t stay secret.
UPDATE: Reader Thomas Enright emails:
I was “polled” last night via telephone regarding our local congressional race. Republican incumbent Joe Knollenberg is taking on Democrat Nancy Skinner. I was presented a series of issue and asked if the candidates” stand on that issue would make me less, more or leave unchanged the likelihood that I would vote for him or her. I was asked about abortion, tariffs, etc. but included in there was “Joe Knollenberg voted to fund the ‘bridge to nowhere.’ Would this make you less likely, more likely to vote for him? Or do you have no opinion”
Now, I know all about the bridge because I have the good sense to read instapundit, however, the average voter? If they go to the trouble to include such a question it must be assumed to have some impact.
Interesting. Anybody else getting questions like this?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here’s more on “Earmark Forensics,” from Marketplace.
BLOGOMETER REPORTS on the latest PorkBusters effort:
8/16 is yet another example of the trend as a broad coalition of conservative bloggers and other established institutions join forces to promote an anti-pork spending project that, since the GOP’s in power, ought to bring embarrassment to GOP lawmakers in the midst of a tough cycle. With their current belief in partisanship at all costs (see CT SEN), would lefty bloggers ever put forward such an effort that had the potential to hurt so many Dems?
In a word, no. The Sunlight Foundation, however, is not on the right, but the left, lest anyone be confused.
UPDATE: Randy Walker emails: “What? After Joe just lost a primary? What are you smoking (can I get some)? Exactly how many Republicans have been kicked out of office because of Pork Busters? When it comes to political pressure on your own party, I believe the score is left 1, right 0. I love pork busters but your are way out to sea on this one.”
Hmm. Well, that’s fair, I guess — except that the Blogometer point, and mine, was not about individual elections, but rather about things that give one side or another a structural advantage. As Josh Marshall and Mickey Kaus noted on Bloggingheads.tv, the “K Street strategy” seems to be working for the Republicans, but a lot of GOP-leaning bloggers are still attacking it. That’s a bit different from trying to replace one Democrat with a different Democrat.
That said, I hope that by 2008 — it’s too late for this election cycle, alas — we’ll see anti-pork forces supporting anti-pork primary challengers.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Oops, I gave Randy Walker too much credit. Reader Kurt Dykstra emails:
Um, perhaps Joe Schwarz (MI-7) counts? At least the Club for Growth
(www.clubforgrowth.org) folks — which is identified as among the group of “Other Porkbusters” on the porkbusters.org website — seem to think it had something to do with this incumbent’s loss in the Republican primary . . .
That had slipped my mind, somehow.
MORE: Randy Walker follows up:
Thanks but I had missed Joe Schwaz too. Lets see, left wing Sunlight Foundation working the same soil as right wing Pork Busters, incumbents on both sides getting defeated in primaries, cats and dogs living together…..
If I did not know any better I would swear something big is going on. From now on I am going to be very suspicious of anybody who tries to spin this election in terms of “left vs. right”. This is “us vs. them”.
I’d like that to be true. I hope it is.
JAY ROSEN LOOKS AT PORKBUSTERS and sees the beginning of an era of networked journalism.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A big push on earmarks is underway. Here’s an editorial from the Washington Examiner:
Something new is happening today as The Examiner invites readers to help uncover which members of Congress sponsored the 1,867 secret spending earmarks worth more than $500 million in the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriation bill now before Congress.
These earmarks average more than $268,000 each. To our knowledge, The Examiner is the first-ever daily newspaper to join with readers, citizen activists from across the political spectrum and bloggers in this manner to uncover the facts behind government spending.
The Examiner — in cooperation with the Sunlight Foundation, Porkbusters.org and Citizens Against Government Waste — is making the Labor-HHS earmarks database public.
TIME: “Joe Lieberman’s loss Tuesday in the Senate primary also signaled the ascendancy of a legitimate new power center in the Democratic party, the Netroots.”
I think that’s right. The big question now is, can they win a general election the same way. Joe Gandelman has a big roundup of reactions, and asks: “Is Lieberman’s defeat and Lamont’s victory a harbinger of a new direction for the Democratic party with many parts of the party on the same page — or the beginning of a self-defeating split that will cause the Democrats to grab defeat from the jaws of victory in November?”
Kaus says that Lieberman beat the spread, but agrees that his defeat is a big deal, and credits Kos for gloating “effectively and non-megalomaniacally.” But he also relays this bit of snark: “Will history record that the first significant victory of moveon.org was the defeat of a…..Democratic incumbent?”
And Markos observes: “Seeing Al From’s oldest nemesis, Jesse Jackson, behind Lamont tonight must’ve driven him insane. That brings a smile to my face.” And Karl Rove’s, I imagine.
It’ll be interesting to see what effect this has on Republican politicians’ interactions with the blogosphere. Perhaps PorkBusters will get more respect. And Kaus notes similar primary victories in GOP races on the part of the Club for Growth, which suggests that the power of outsiders is generally being magnified by the Internet. Hmm. Intriguing idea!
There’s lots more rounded up over at PJ Media.
UPDATE: Don Surber won’t miss Joe: “So a Trust Fund Baby named Ned Lamont, whose money goes back four generations to a partnership with JP Morgan himself, knocked off Joe Lieberman today. Good for Ned. See ya, Joe. Don’t let the door hit you on that ass you’ve been covering for years in the Senate.”
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A look at pork in higher education: Earmarks for colleges and universities don’t get as much scrutiny as pork aimed at other sorts of institutions, according to this report. “The most recent statistics on college pork come from an article in The Chronicle that reported total earmarks had surpassed $2 billion for the 2003 fiscal year.”
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Andy Roth reports big progress on his 435 districts, 435 blogs anti-pork initiative
We’re up to 78 blogs writing about 168 politicians.
That’s good news (you can see what still needs to be done by following the link), and you should feel free to get involved. Adopt a member of Congress — they’ll be glad you did! Or not.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s a worthy venture. “435 districts, 435 blogs against pork!” Andy Roth writes:
Thanks to Congressman Jeff Flake’s 19 anti-pork amendments, we now have every House member on record regarding their positions on earmarks. Before now, House members have been able to avoid scrutiny because their pork was co-mingled with other projects and tucked into the dark corners of big spending bills. Or they were able to withstand the scrutiny because they were attacked as a whole chamber and not directly attacked themselves.
But because of Flake’s amendments, they were recently forced to cast up-or-down votes on specific projects. They could no longer deflect attention. Below is a summary scorecard of how they voted (below the scorecard are the vote descriptions). If you want an itemized list, you can click on any one of the following PDFs. A “YES” vote on any of the Flake amendments is a good, anti-pork vote. A “NO” vote is a bad, pro-pork vote.
So what can we do with this information? If you are a blogger, find your local congressman and blog about him. We have the votes, we have the members on record…now we just need to put some sunlight on the situation. Once you’ve blogged about a particular lawmaker, let me know. I’ll post a link to your blog on the list below. My email address is aroth at clubforgrowth dot org.
Follow the link for more information, and to sign up.
TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT SPENDING: Mark Tapscott reports on upcoming hearings.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Hill reports on a planned porkfest:
House Republicans are struggling to move a labor, health and human services (HHS) appropriations bill containing more than 1,700 earmarks that would help lawmakers of both parties in their November reelection bids.
The district-specific projects, totaling about half a billion dollars, are tied to a Democratic minimum-wage increase that is anathema to the GOP, and no proposed solution has taken root. . . .
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said leadership will be under pressure to move the bill before the November election.
“Democrats and Republicans are going to want to pass this bill,” said Flake, who has threatened to offer amendments to strike each of the 1,700 earmarks for which a sponsor is not identified.
“We’re in an election season, and members have come to believe that the path to reelection is paved with pork,” Flake said. “This bill is full of it.”
Few, if any, lawmakers expect the largest domestic spending bill to become law before the election, but many would like the House to pass it by then.
It’s called buying your votes with your own money. I hope we’ll see a lot of pushback on this.
WE TALKED WITH JOHN MCCAIN, Republican Senator from Arizona and likely 2008 Presidential candidate, about a variety of hot button topics: Immigration (which got a pretty lengthy treatment), the Second Amendment, blogs and campaign finance reform, leaks from the CIA and other intelligence agencies and, of course, earmarks and PorkBusters.
Helen also asked him about rumors that he’s considering Condi Rice or Jeb Bush as a 2008 running mate, and whether he’d support federal legislation banning gun confiscation of the sort that happened in New Orleans after Katrina.
You can listen directly by clicking right here, or you can get it via iTunes. There’s a low-fidelity version for dialup users right here, and an archive of all our podcasts is at GlennandHelenShow.com.
As always, my lovely and talented cohost is soliciting comments and suggestions.