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porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Mona Charen is warning the Republicans, and I think she’s right:

Does anyone remember the heady days of 1994 when Republicans took control of the House? Does anyone remember one of the grand themes that enabled Newt Gingrich to grasp the Speaker’s gavel? Why, it was corruption. The Republicans were going to clean house. No more smarmy House bank scandals. No more cozy perks. No more exemptions for Congressmen from the laws they enacted for everyone else.

Clearly Speaker Denny Hastert has long forgotten that bit of lore. His response to the FBI search of Democratic Congressman William Jefferson’s office could not have been more maladroit. Hastert rushed before the cameras to defend the privileges of the House, thereby lending his prestige to the vacuous Democratic argument that large principles are at stake here. They aren’t. Jefferson froze cash in his freezer and kept ill-gotten gains in his House office. Those are very quotidian crimes. His reach for the “Speech and Debate” clause was laughable.

And so was Hastert’s defense, which only caused people to wonder what Hastert has to hide.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Investor’s Business Daily says put the pork online:

Information is power, right? Transparency makes for good government, right? So why all the congressional foot-dragging over a bill to expose how our tax dollars are spent?

Sure, the question sort of answers itself. These are congressmen, after all, and even their party affiliation doesn’t curb their impulse to conceal as best they can all the grants and contracts for which their constituents ultimately must pay.

Unless you’re a maverick such as Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn. He’s pushing a bill to create a database where taxpayers, using popular search engines from home PCs, can easily find which companies and which nonprofits have been awarded their money.

Read the whole thing. I’m for it! (Via NewsBeat1).

UPDATE: A journalist reader who (tellingly) requests anonymity emails on the novelty of Coburn’s amendment:

It would highlight all the pork that sneaks out asgrants to non-profits, advocacy groups and professionals. That’s novel, because nearly all previous media discussions of pork focused on the pork delivered to industry via obvious, signed, published, announced contracts.

Coburn’s amendment is particularly noxious because it allows much easier oversight of the pork handed out to our peers, our fellow professionals, not those distasteful businessmen working in weapons companies, the road-building industry, etc. Our professional pork includes grants for diversity training, anti-smoking campaigns, peace promotion, voter registration, ad nauseam. . . .

I’m guessing there will be less media support for this aspect.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Jason DeParle reports:

Exasperated by his party’s failure to cut government spending, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, is seeking cyberhelp.

Coburn wants to create a public database, searchable over the Internet, that would list most government contracts and grants – exposing hundreds of billions in annual spending to instant desktop view.

Type in “Halliburton,” the military contractor, or “Sierra Club,” the environmental group, for example, and a search engine would show all the federal money they receive.

A search for the terms “Alaska” and “bridges” would expose a certain $223 million span to Gravina Island (population 50) that critics call the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

While advocating for openness, Coburn is also placing a philosophical bet that the more the public learns about federal spending, the less it will want.

“Sunshine’s the best thing we’ve got to control waste, fraud and abuse,” he said. “It’s also the best thing we’ve got to control stupidity. It’ll be a force for the government we need.”

But Coburn’s plan, hailed by conservatives, is also sponsored by a Democrat, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, and applauded by liberal groups that support activist government.

Yes, the anti-pork movement is pretty bipartisan. And why shouldn’t it be? Sadly the pro-pork movement is pretty bipartisan, too . . . .

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Okay, these aren’t earmarks, exactly, but we’re still talking pork:

Even though Donald R. Matthews put his sprawling new residence in the heart of rice country, he is no farmer. He is a 67-year-old asphalt contractor who wanted to build a dream house for his wife of 40 years.

Yet under a federal agriculture program approved by Congress, his 18-acre suburban lot receives about $1,300 in annual “direct payments,” because years ago the land was used to grow rice.

Matthews is not alone. Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post.

As the Nebraska Guitar Militia put it: Farmin’ the Government beats actual, you know, farming: “Reap what you don’t sow.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Spruiell notes the connection with Doha’s collapse.

UPDATE: You can hear “Farmin’ the Government” here. It just might be the best song on agricultural subsidies you ever hear!

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s a cautionary tale:

Rebuffed on several requests for state and federal financing to help rebuild its crumbling bridge, this small resort town was all but resigned to raising the money by doubling the 50-cent bridge toll, increasing property taxes and issuing bonds.

But in a last-ditch gambit, city officials hired a federal lobbyist who had known the local congressman for four decades. Within weeks, the congressman, Representative C. W. Bill Young, called the mayor to say he had slipped a special $50 million appropriation, known as an earmark, into an omnibus bill.

We need to change the culture so that communities will be as embarrassed by stories like this as by reports of racism or environmental destruction.

THE NATIONAL JOURNAL’S DANNY GLOVER comments on John McCain’s Porkbusters post.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Over at Porkbusters, it’s a guest post from Sen. John McCain:

So why has my party, the party of small government, lately adopted the practices of our opponents who believe the bigger the government the better? I’m afraid it’s because at times we value our incumbency more than our principles. We came to office to reduce the size of government. Lately, we have increased the size of government in order to stay in office. The editors of National Review have argued — and I agree with them — that unless Republicans curb government spending by reforming the budget process, we may lose our majorities in the House and Senate. I will go one step further and say that if Republicans do not reform our budget process, we will deserve to lose our majorities.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Freeman Hunt looks at the big picture: “I am not a McCain fan, however, at least if McCain is getting behind efforts like Porkbusters, you can guess that there is a shift in momentum going on somewhere in Congress.”

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: More revolving doors and close friendships:

When defense contractor Nicholas Karangelen launched a political action committee directed by the stepdaughter of the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he added another dimension to a tight circle of Capitol Hill relationships that is under federal investigation.

The relationships revolve around Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, who leads the Appropriations Committee and has extraordinarily close ties to lobbyists Letitia White and Bill Lowery.

White worked for Lewis for 21 years before joining Lowery’s lobbying firm in 2003. Lowery, a former San Diego congressman who sat on the Appropriations Committee, is one of Lewis’ closest friends and his principal fundraiser.

Read the whole thing (via TPM Muckraker). Actually, the most damning part may be this statement: “A spokesman for the lobbying firm defended its work as typical of Washington advocacy in an era of explosive growth in earmarking.”

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: More on Mollohan:

Representative Alan Mollohan helped funnel at least $179 million in U.S. government contracts over the last six years to companies that gave to the West Virginia Democrat’s family-run charity, tax records and other documents show.

The money went to 21 companies and nonprofit groups that contributed $225,427 to the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation in 2004 — almost half of the charity’s revenue, according to the documents. The congressman, an Appropriations Committee member whose finances are under federal investigation, is the secretary of the foundation, which is named for his father.

The charity, which distributes scholarships to West Virginia students, raises most of its money from corporate sponsors of an annual golf tournament attended by Mollohan, 63. The event gives company executives an opportunity to meet with him in a casual setting without having to report the donations as lobbying expenses.

“They are buying time, they are buying access, they are buying goodwill for their particular corporate needs,” said Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a Washington-based group that advocates strict ethical standards for charities.

(Via PorkBusters.org).

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s more on Dennis Hastert:

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) made a $2 million profit last year on the sale of land 5 1/2 miles from a highway project that he helped to finance with targeted federal funds.

A Republican House member from California, meanwhile, received nearly double what he paid for a four-acre parcel near an Air Force base after securing $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles away. And another California GOP congressman obtained funding in last year’s highway bill for street improvements near a planned residential and commercial development that he co-owns.

In all three cases, Hastert and Reps. Ken Calvert and Gary Miller say that they were securing funds their home districts wanted badly, and that in no way did the earmarks have any impact on the land values of their investments. But for watchdog groups, the cases have opened a fresh avenue for investigation and a new wrinkle in the ongoing controversy over earmarks — home-district projects funded through narrowly written legislative language.

For more than a year, the congressional corruption scandal triggered by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has focused attention on earmarks secured by lawmakers on lobbyists’ and government contractors’ behalf. Now watchdog groups are combing through lawmakers’ land holdings and legislative activities, searching for earmarks that may have boosted the value of those investments.

“The sound bites from politicians have always been that they’re doing what’s best for their districts, but we’re starting to see a pattern that looks like they might be doing what’s best for their pocketbooks,” said Keith Ashdown, vice president of the group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Gee, do you think? (Via Ed Morrissey, who has further thoughts).

UPDATE: Reader Pat McNiff emails: “Could this be why Hastert got so exercised when the FBI raided William Jefferson’s office?”

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: It’s not just Dennis Hastert:

Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported how the ranking member on the defense appropriations subcommittee has a brother, Robert Murtha, whose lobbying firm represents 10 companies that received more than $20 million from last year’s defense spending bill. “Clients of the lobbying firm KSA Consulting — whose top officials also include former congressional aide Carmen V. Scialabba, who worked for Rep. Murtha as a congressional aide for 27 years — received a total of $20.8 million from the bill,” the L.A. Times reported.

In early 2004, according to Roll Call, Mr. Murtha “reportedly leaned on U.S. Navy officials to sign a contract to transfer the Hunters Point Shipyard to the city of San Francisco.” Laurence Pelosi, nephew of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the time was an executive of the company which owned the rights to the land. The same article also reported how Mr. Murtha has been behind millions of dollars worth of earmarks in defense appropriations bills that went to companies owned by the children of fellow Pennsylvania Democrat, Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group, lists Mr. Murtha as the top recipient of defense industry dollars in the current 2006 election cycle.

As Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, has said, “If there is a potential pattern where Congressman Murtha has helped other Democrats secure appropriations that also benefited relatives of those members, I believe this would be something that merits further review by the ethics committee.”

It’s odd that the media, which has been fairly unbiased in going after corrupt politicians recently, has gone silent on Mr. Murtha’s questionable actions.

Well, maybe.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s a look at comprehensive budget process reform, from Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation.

I hope that this gets a lot of attention, but given the behavior of Dennis Hastert, Jerry Lewis, et al., it’s hard for me to believe that we’ll see reform in this Congress, even though the failure to enact such reform is likely to be very damaging to the Republicans.

Meanwhile, N.Z. Bear has dramatically enhanced the news-aggegation aspects of the PorkBusters website, and it’s filling up with pork-related news.

And the Sunlight Foundation is looking for volunteers to investigate Congress.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Robert Novak looks at Jerry Lewis and Dennis Hastert and observes:

Earmarks increasingly are the source of corruption and ethical transgressions on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Yet, the cardinals defend the practice. They argue constituents want pork, not reform.

The authentic prevailing congressional attitude toward reform was expressed by a Democrat who often is less discreet than his colleagues. The Sun Gazette newspaper in northern Virginia reported that Rep. Jim Moran told a party dinner June 9 in his district: “When I become [a House Appropriations subcommittee] chairman, I’m going to earmark the s— out of it.”

Appropriators stalk the House taking names of colleagues who dare disrupt logrolling. Every time, however, a coterie votes against pork. Their ranks include conservative reformers Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Mike Pence of Indiana, John Shadegg of Arizona and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. They can kiss goodbye goodies for their districts.

At Charlie Palmer’s restaurant on Wednesday, assembled GOP campaign contributors cheered as John Boehner was introduced as the majority leader who never has sponsored an earmark. Later that day, Boehner voted against each of Flake’s attempted earmark removals. In the House, one conservative reformer said to another seated beside him: “With this leadership, we never will get rid of earmarks.”

Despite some good talk by Boehner, I think that’s right. His actions haven’t lived up to the talk.

IN LIGHT OF MY PORKBUSTERS POST BELOW, here’s a roundup on Jim Moran’s checkered past.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Charles Babcock reports on the project that wouldn’t die:

Over the past decade Vibration & Sound Solutions Ltd., a small Alexandria defense contractor, has received a steady flow of federal contracts to work on “Project M” — $37 million in all from annual “earmarks” by congressional supporters such as Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.).

Project M, a technology involving magnetic levitation, was conceived as a way to keep submarine machinery quieter, was later marketed as a way to keep Navy SEALs safer in their boats and, in the end, was examined as a possible way to protect Marines from roadside bombs.

All the applications have one thing in common: The Pentagon hasn’t wanted them. . . . Moran received $17,000 in campaign contributions from Conkling and his wife over the years.

Read the whole thing, which puts it in the context of the larger earmarks issue.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Andy Roth reports that Brian Bilbray has broken his word, voting for a bill full of secret earmarks after opposing them during his election:

Despite these strong words to clean up the earmark process, Bilbray promptly voted YES on the T-THUD appropriations bill yesterday, which contained over 1500 earmarks ($), most of which weren’t even in the final bill, but secretly hidden in committee reports.

Plus, he voted NO and NO and NO and NO on each of Jeff Flake’s anti-pork amendments.

Bilbray claims to be a fiscal conservative, but so far he’s off to a bad start.

Not very impressive in a guy who’s only been in office for a couple of days. But maybe he’ll do better, now that he realizes people are watching. If not, there’s another election in November.

Matthew Hoy is saying “I told you so.”

UPDATE: In the comments to Hoy’s post I see that some people in Bilbray’s district are talking about putting up a write-in candidate against him in November as a result of these shenanigans. Hope his office takes note.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Bill Frist proposes “bold structural reform” to stop over-spending:

First, the Stop Over-Spending Act would give President Bush the line item veto. Pork thrives in Washington because it can be tucked away inside massive appropriation bills without any public deliberation or meaningful transparency. But, armed with special, fast-track procedures guaranteeing an up-or-down vote in Congress to specific spending cuts that the President proposes, we can subject pork barrel spending to the bright light of public scrutiny. Governors in 43 states have the line item veto and so should President Bush.

Second, the Stop Over-Spending Act would also put the American government on a two-year budget cycle – a proposal that I’ve strongly supported ever since I first entered the Senate eleven years ago. The American people deserve careful oversight of their tax dollars. Yet, over 15% of all federal spending, $160 billion, takes place without oversight or even formal permission to be funded. And the Office of Management and Budget reports that over a quarter of all federal programs either don’t work or can’t show any evidence that they do. Under biennial budgeting, Congress would have more time to cut bad programs, expand good ones, and root out waste.

Third, the Stop Over-Spending Act would reestablish statutory caps for discretionary spending – enforced by automatic, across-the-board spending reductions – as well as mandate a cap on the federal deficit (as a percentage of our GDP) – ultimately enforced by automatic, across-the-board reductions in entitlement spending.

Hmm. The line-item veto is pretty clearly an ineffectual gimmick, even if it can be done Constitutionally by statute. I’m not sure about the other proposals. Thoughts?

Meanwhile, Bill Allison says that Dennis Hastert has an earmark problem.

UPDATE: Reader Jonthan Hamlet likes the two-year budgeting program:

I’m a Federal Contracting Officer, so I actually spend the goverment’s money myself by awarding contracts and doing purchases, and I can say with authority that a two-year budget would do so much to cut down on federal expenditures and waste that it would eclipse any anti-pork movement. Why? Well, currently we have the infamous end of the fiscal year crunch in September where you have to spend all the money by the 30th or it “expires.” This leads to spending decisions at the program level that are apallingly stupid, like the warehousing of computers and cell phones and furniture and ordering pointless studies and mounds of unnecessary software or generally just hiring a bunch of contractors to perform unnecessary support services.

Aside from the general fact that the government isn’t the best at deciding how to spend its, a lot of this is driven by how little planning time program managers have. Before Congress actually passes a budget, they can’t do anything and what they’re going to get is up in the air. Usually the money doesn’t roll in until a budget is passed, passes through OMB, and then passes through whatever equivalent Department Secretary there is, which is usually sometime around March. This gives them about a six month window to spend what is supposed to be a year’s worth of money, as the rest of the time they are on continuing resolution funding, which is usually a deeply cut version of last year’s budget that prevents them from actually doing any new projects or activities. Six months is barely enough time to actually get together a plan for spending the money at all, let alone in a smart way.

I worked at the EPA for awhile, and they had so-called two year money. It was spent in an infinitely smarter way. Managers had a chance to plan the expenditures and take their time finding the best goods or services. They didn’t pointlessly buy stuff they didn’t need just so the money wouldn’t disappear. Switching the whole government over would make the financial management and the planning of all the expenditures much more sound. Right now it’s pretty much six months of guessing what we’ll get then an absolute feeding frenzy once we get it.

Are things really this bad? If so, then maybe this is more than a gimmick. Wouldn’t we lose a lot in terms of flexibility, though?

Another reader is less enthusiastic: “While a two year budget cycle may have some merit, I can’t see how it reduces spending. The issue here is a lack of discipline and will power, not a lack of time.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader who asks anonymity — but who knows a lot about budgeting — emails:

Hey Glenn – I thought I’d weigh in very quickly on the two-year budgeting debate. The immediate goal of two-year budgeting is not necessarily to cut spending (if Congress just wanted to cut spending, it has the means to do it right now!).

The immediate goal of two-year budgeting is to dramatically increase oversight of money that is spent by the government. Congress barely gives itself enough time each year to spend all of your money, let alone investigate how your money was spent last year. By requiring Congress to spend an entire year doing oversight (two-year budgeting requires Congress to do appropriations in one year and oversight in the next year), two-year budgeting will result in greater spending oversight and accountability.

One more thought – the overall reform bill is fantastic. It also includes “PAYGO” for emergency spending above a specified limit, multi-year statutory spending caps, and BRAC-style sunset commission for federal programs. Whatever one thinks about the line-item veto, the overall reform bill is definitely a step in the right direction.

Other thoughts, anyone?

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Ed Morrisey has much more on Hastert.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Andy Roth reports that we can’t look to Democrats for relief from earmarking:

At a recent gathering for Democrats, Congressman Jim Moran (unfortunately, my congressman) promised to bring home more bacon if the Democrats re-capture the House and he gets re-elected. And he isn’t shy about admitting it. Here’s what Moran said according to a report in the Arlington Sun-Gazette:

“When I become chairman [of a House appropriations subcommittee], I’m going to earmark the s—t out of it,” Moran buoyantly told a crowd of 450 attending the event.”

Well, that’s encouraging. Sheesh.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Captain Ed notes that things have gone pretty well for PorkBusters:

The conference committee on the emergency appropriations bill has reached agreement on the measure which had an original spending gap of $16 billion. The resulting bill will reach the White House at $94.5 billion, $2.5 billion more than the House-approved plan but much lighter than the heavily-porked version the Senate tried mightily to get. . . .

The Washington Post goes on to report what didn’t get included in the final version. The first item to make an overdue exit, Trent Lott’s Moveable Railroad, got left out and saved taxpayers $700 million. The committee didn’t appear very sympathetic to funding a new railroad right next to the existing line the government just spent $250 million repairing. Also gone from Mississippi porkfests was the obnoxious Northrup bailout, contributing $200 million in savings. In the end, the committee trimmed $13.5 billion from the Senate’s bloated budget-buster, or roughly $45 for every man, woman, and child this year.

Take the family out for a nice meal, and leave a tip. Have the pork roast; I’m sure it will be delicious.

This shows that we can have an effect on earmarks and the politicians addicted to them, as long as we remain vigilant. Organization and tenacity will leave a mark on those who defy voters for long enough. Lott has become the poster child for arrogance on Capitol Hill during this debate, not because he is a bad man — he isn’t at all — but because he treated us as though taxation and appropriations were none of our business. That kind of politics went out when the first website went up, and more and more our representatives have begun to understand this.

Yes. Read the whole thing. I wish I’d packed my PorkBusters t-shirt for the beach!

His conclusion: “We made a difference this time, a difference of $13.5 billion. A few more of these, and we’ll be talking about real money.” Heh. Indeed.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This sounds worse than embarrassing:

A political fundraising committee headed by a defense contractor has paid thousands of dollars in fees to the stepdaughter of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) at a time when the contractor has been lobbying Congress for funding.

Lewis’ stepdaughter, Julia Willis-Leon, has been paid more than $42,000 by the Small Biz Tech Political Action Committee, according to campaign finance records. The PAC is led by Nicholas Karangelen, founder and president of Trident Systems Inc.

Records show the company received at least $11.7 million in earmarked funds in recent defense spending bills over which Lewis’ committee has jurisdiction.

But read the whole thing, as it gets worse.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: More on pork and corruption in the House:

Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, another conservative stalwart, tried unsuccessfully to strip millions of dollars worth of farm subsidies out of the bill. “I offered eight amendments and every single one got voted down,” he says.

After the defeat, Flake told the New York Times, “”We have one of our former members in jail right now for basically selling earmarks”—referring to disgraced former member Randy “Duke” Cunningham. “He was able to get his earmarks through the legislative process without being challenged. Jack Abramoff reportedly referred to the Appropriations Committee as an ‘earmark favor factory.’”

In response to these comments, the earmarks’ defenders told the Times that Flake’s comments were out of line.

1994. Again. Right? I mean, these guys were never rocket scientists, but when I see this many people acting this stupidly — and in the face of lousy approval ratings that should be getting their attention — I have to wonder what I’m missing.

UPDATE: More here from Jacob Sullum:

Like most of their colleagues, Bonilla and Obey think buying votes with other people’s money is perfectly honorable—indeed, something (unlike respecting the Constitution) they are obligated to do as the people’s representatives. Hence it is light years away from the blatant corruption represented by such malefactors as Cunningham and Abramoff. Flake’s point, which Bonilla and Obey pretended to miss, was that the earmark system, by allowing legislators to quietly slip in funding for pet projects, invites such corruption.

But pork is also a form of corruption in itself, involving the use of taxpayer money not to perform the legitimate functions of the federal government but to serve the legislator’s own interest–in this case, staying in power, which brings with it all sorts of perks. Cunningham did pretty much the same thing, bringing federal money to his district at the behest of his constituents, except that he got some additional goodies in the process. If the actions are the same, does the antique armoire make all the difference?

To some people.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Mark Tapscott says that Senate Appropriators went hog-wild on earmarks:

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, is the most frequent requester of earmarks on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, with 77 requests for such special interest spending measures between 2001 and 2006.

Specter lead the earmark fest that saw GOP members of the panel request an average of 27 earmarks during the five years. By contrast, the dozen Democrat members of the committee requested an average of 17 earmarks.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, was the leading earmark requester among Democrat members of the appropriations committee, with 75. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, was shown with only one earmark request.

The data for this analysis was compiled for a report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, chaired by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK. The report was based on information provided by the Congressional Research Service.

Trailing Specter – who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – among the top five GOP requesters was Sen. Mike DeWine, R-OH, with 53, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, with 33, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, with 21, and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, with 19. Cochran is chairman of the committee.

Read the whole thing. And weep. Especially if you’re a Republican.

UPDATE: Follow the link for Mark Tapscott’s correction.

CONGRESS MEMBERS AGREE: Congress is above the law!

House leaders of both parties stood in rare election-year unanimity Wednesday demanding the FBI surrender documents it took and remove agents involved in the weekend raid of a congressman’s office.

“The Justice Department must immediately return the papers it unconstitutionally seized,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

I say, search ’em all. Now. They must have something to hide, right? They certainly don’t mind much more intrusive paramilitary raids on the rest of us, even though the Fourth Amendment provides a lot more reason to doubt the validity of those than the Speech and Debate Clause provides where Congressional searches are concerned.

Read this post from Orin Kerr, too, on the weakness of the constitutional argument they’re making. There may be a prudential argument that searches like this are a bad idea — though, frankly, I don’t think a very convincing one — but to claim that the Constitution forbids the execution of a search warrant by law enforcement simply because the target is a Congressional office is weak and self-serving.

The leadership — of both parties — should be ashamed of this stunt. They should remember that the Constitution forbids titles of nobility, too, despite their effort to transform their positions into something very much like that.

MORE: Reader Peter Neva thinks my “search ’em all” reference was a serious call to ransack all Congressional offices. Uh, no. It’s a reference to this post. You’ve got to follow the discussion here, you know.

STILL MORE: Unlike me, Jonathan Andrew is all for searching them all, and thinks there’s no legitimate expectation of privacy in a taxpayer-funded Congressional office: “I hereby call for just that: What could they possibly have, in their official capacity as our representatives, to hide from us?”

We don’t disagree all that much: It’s in that spirit that I’ve supported applying the Freedom of Information Act to Congress.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Tim Chapman reports that Trent Lott’s “Railroad to Nowhere” seems to be going nowhere for the moment, as it won’t be in the conference report for the emergency Afghanistan / Iraq / Katrina bill.

That’s good news, but it could, of course, reappear in some other piece of legislation down the line. And probably will.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A look at the explosion of spending since Republicans took over Congress:

Even excluding spending related to Katrina, defense and homeland security, discretionary expenditures jumped 22 percent.

Perhaps more startling, this spending energy has been fueled by nearly unprecedented consumption of pork — the government variety, that is. Pork-barrel projects in the federal budget grew from 1,439 in fiscal 1995 to 13,997 in fiscal 2005, leading one to believe Republicans had been so deprived of this kind of nourishment over the 40 years they were out of the majority that they couldn’t resist gorging.

Just a whisper of an appropriations measure causes frenzy in both houses as members queue up weeks ahead to insert their favorite vote-garnering projects. Conscious about the bad publicity in the past for “bridges to nowhere,” the good lawmakers cut back on the number of earmarks, from 9,963 in 11 appropriations bills, a 29 percent decrease over last year’s 13,997. That is highly commendable, right? But wait. The $29 billion spent on the reduced number of pork projects actually was a 6.2 percent increase over the $27.3 billion spent the previous year.

Among the “crucial” items listed in the Waste folks’ annual Pig Book was $13.5 million for the International Fund for Ireland which helped finance the World Toilet Summit; $6.4 million for wood utilization research; $1 million for the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative, and $500,000 for the Sparta, N.C., Teapot Museum. These political necessities were provided at taxpayer expense while wind and water inundated Louisiana and Mississippi and bombs blew away soldiers in Iraq.

Sigh. House Majority Leader John Boehner told us in his PorkBusters interview that constituents are mad about this, and that he hears that wherever he goes. I think that if people want to see progress here, they need to communicate those sentiments loudly and often.

UPDATE: Stan Brown says that spending isn’t nearly as bad as this makes it sound.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Some pretty good news, according to Mark Tapscott:

National Journal’s Peter Cohn is reporting an agreement among Senate and House negotiators to cap spending in the emergency spending bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Gulf Coast hurricane recovery to $94.5 billion.

The total would include, according to Cohn, the $92.5 billion originally requested by President Bush and approved by the House of Representatives, plus an additional $2.3 billion to fund avian flu preparations. The National Journal is a subscription-only publication, so I can’t provide a link to the full article.

Keep your eye on the ball. Er, and your hand on your wallet.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: I like this from Dennis Hastert:

Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) today made the following statement regarding Senate attempts to use an across-the-board cut to make room for additional spending it included in its $109 billion emergency supplemental bill. The Senate passed its bill, which is more than $15 billion over the President’s $92 billion budget request, earlier this month.

“Any calls from the Senate for an across-the-board cut to make room for a bloated supplemental will be met by a busy signal in the House. The House will not join a shell-game spending spree with taxpayer dollars. President Bush requested $92 billion for the War on Terror and Hurricane Katrina relief spending. The House has passed a bill that exercised fiscal restraint. The Senate needs to throw overboard, unnecessary add-ons and help us get the needed funds to our troops in the field and our fellow citizens suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

Yes. That’s certainly consistent with what Majority Leader John Boehner said in our PorkBusters interview. Boehner, by the way, also said that we may see a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment this year.

Meanwhile, I like this proposal for term limits for Congressional appropriators. It might even be a cure for Pork Envy.

IT’S A PORKBUSTERS PODCAST INTERVIEW with House Majority Leader John Boehner, about spending, earmarks, and more. He talks pretty tough, and says that the climate on spending has changed because of constituent pressure.

So, if you care about spending, keep the pressure up!

UPDATE: Yes, this was recorded via my studio, and yes the sound is better than most of the Glenn and Helen podcasts. That’s because I used my new digital phone interface, which gives a much clearer signal and a much lower noise floor — which also lets me use a lot more compression on the mix, helping even out the volume and make it punchier. It also helped that Boehner was on a good phone — N.Z. was on a cordless, and you can hear the difference. One problem I’ve discovered in doing these things is that lots of people literally don’t own a wired phone handset anymore.

INDEED:

Bush and the Republican Congress have had a difficult time selling themselves to the public because their policies have not been appealing. They have adhered to a philosophy, big-government conservatism, that has finally alienated nearly everyone. The War on Terror delayed the effects of this alienation for several years, but ultimately the Bush administration’s errors and Congress’s addiction to big spending — which was based on this big-government conservative philosophy — alienated both those outside the party, first, and then a great proportion of Republicans themselves. . . .

The one positive element for Republicans at this point is that they are learning today, almost six months before the coming elections, that their philosophy has run its course. There is time for them to change.

They’d better get cracking. In a related post, Jim Geraghty has thoughts on why stay-at-home Republicans are wrong:

Trent “I’m tired of hearing about Porkbusters” Lott, Ted “Bridge to Nowhere” Stevens, John McCain, Arlen Specter, Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Nice job, guys. Your effort to re-conservativize the Republican Party in Washington by staying home this year will have the effect of massacring the actual conservatives and empowering the moderates who you disdain. Perhaps we can call this counterproductive maneuver “RINO-plasty.”

But that’s okay, the staying-at-home-conservatives insist. The GOP will win back the House and Senate in 2008, establishing a true conservative majority.

Maybe. But as I mentioned, what kind of lengths do you think the Democrats will go to in order to keep power once they’ve got it? Does the “Fairness Doctrine” ring a bell? You think Pelosi and Reid wouldn’t try that tactic to hinder conservative talk radio? How about McCain-Feingold 2.0, with a particular focus on controlling “unregulated speech” on the Internet and blogs?

Think the MSM was cheerleading for Democrats in 2004? How much more fair and balanced do you think they’ll be when their task is to defend Democratic House and Senate majorities AND elect President Hillary Rodham Clinton? My guess is, they’ll make the CBS memo story look accurate and evenhanded by comparison.

Yes, the dissatisfied members of the base should probably be thinking about this. But shouldn’t the GOP leadership be showing a similar sense of urgency?

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Robert Novak looks at “corporate porkbusting:”

Half a billion dollars is chump change at the Pentagon. But it is a symbol that the intensifying battle against individual lawmakers’ earmarks in spending bills is turning to corporate welfare. That category of pork until now has been inviolate, protected by a bipartisan conspiracy of silence.

The Northrop Grumman earmark was inserted by the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman himself, Thad Cochran of Mississippi. That once would have guaranteed passage without public notice, even though the Defense Department and the Navy oppose the spending as wasteful.

But pork-busting freshman Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma now scrutinizes money bills, and he caught the Northrop Grumman earmark. The company, whose revenue last year totaled $40.7 billion, has received $500 million from its insurer and is in litigation seeking another $500 million. The Defense Contract Management Agency has declared “it would be inappropriate to allow Northrop Grumman to bill for costs potentially recoverable by insurance because payment by the government may otherwise relieve the carrier from their policy obligation.” Factory Mutual Insurance Co., with 2004 revenue of $2.7 billion, then would be receiving indirect corporate welfare.

Coburn told the Senate on May 2 that the Northrop Grumman payment “sets a terrible precedent for the future.” He called it “a step too far. I believe we need to back up and let the private sector take care of its obligations.” He mentioned unspecified federal “largesse” for the company, pointing to the questionable DDX destroyer. . . .

Efforts such as Coburn’s over the years have been slapped down hard, but not this time. The Coburn amendment barely lost, 51 to 48, in a rare Senate vote crossing party lines. Republicans split 28 to 27 against Mississippi’s powerful senators, with John McCain and Majority Leader Bill Frist supporting Coburn. Democrats voted 24 to 20 for Northrop Grumman. North Dakota’s twin deficit hawks, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, voted with Coburn, but Edward M. Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Democratic Leader Harry Reid supported corporate welfare.

The House Appropriations Committee not only rejected the Northrop Grumman payment, but asserted that federal money should not “substitute for private insurance benefits.”

Keep the pressure on.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Ed Feulner writes:

Need proof of how pork-addicted Congress has become? Consider this: Some in the Senate are looking for ways to shift funds from the troops in Iraq to some of their favorite pet projects.

At risk is the $94.4 supplemental spending bill President Bush requested from Congress to provide $92 billion for hurricane relief and the troops in Iraq, and $2.4 billion for avian flu response. Despite his warning that anything more would be vetoed, several senators abused the legislation’s must-pass status to add $14 billion in wasteful pork-barrel goodies for influential constituents, labor unions and corporations.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, introduced several amendments to strip these earmarks, but despite some close votes, all but one lost.

Unable to control their colleagues, 35 senators signed a letter promising to support a veto, and the House of Representatives’ leadership announced it would refuse to accept any supplemental exceeding the $94.4 billion target. Despite these positive signs in favor of spending restraint, some in the Senate want to concoct a face-saving deal with the president to sustain these wasteful proposals. Their plan: Shortchange the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to preserve most of the pork.

Meanwhile, here’s an interview with Coburn:

Sitting in his office on a recent morning after two weeks of constant battle with Senate spenders, Mr. Coburn was upbeat over how much he had managed to save for the American taxpayer.

“Fifteen million,” he boasted wryly, fully grasping what a small dent that put in the $14 billion in added pork.

But he said there was a point anyway.

“But remember, we’re not measuring it that way,” he said of the staggering amount of pork that still got through. “This is a long-term strategy to change the behavior in the Congress and to change that behavior by exciting the American people and having them start paying attention. And they are.”

Mr. Coburn pointed to a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal that showed the No. 1 priority American voters have for Congress is ending the process of “earmarks,” the special projects that members of Congress insert into spending bills to curry political favor.

That the issue has become of such urgent concern to voters is in no small measure because of the single-minded efforts of Mr. Coburn, who won election to the Senate just two years ago. Before that, he entered the House as one of the Republican “Class of 1994,” but left in 2001, keeping his pledge to serve only three terms.

That the issue has become of such urgent concern also has to do with the extravagant examples of pork that Mr. Coburn has hauled out of the shadows, onto the Senate floor and for days ridiculed on national television.

Ridicule is a key weapon. Fortunately, it’s a target-rich environment.

UPDATE: Reader George Walton offers this summary: “Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan risking their butts, but our senators don’t want to risk their seats.”

Like I said. . . .

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Over at PorkBusters.org, a letter to the Republican leadership from thirty House Republicans urging them to hold the line on the spending bill:

Since the House passed this bill on March 16,2006, the Senate has been adding billions of dollars in non-emergency spending to a measure that is meant to provide emergency h d s to our troops in the field and those still recovering from one of our county’s worst natural disasters.

One particularly egregious earmark seeks $700 million in federal funds to move a railroad track that had just been repaired at a cost of $250 million. Supporters of the project say the rail line needs to be moved because it is vulnerable to hurricane damage. Yet the proposed new location is just a short distance inland and was greatly damaged by Katrina last year. There is well documented evidence that the real reason supporters want this newly repaired rail line moved is to make room for casino development along the Gulf Coast.

While these Senators are fighting to secure money for pet projects, American servicemen and women are awaiting these funds to fight for the cause of freedom. Senators who have been adding billions to the bottom line of this legislation by insisting that pet projects receive funds are jeopardizing the passage of this measure. We applaud President’Bush for issuing a strong veto threat against the bill unless it is under his $92 billion request. We also encourage you to work to strip these unnecessary spending increases from the bill when this measure reaches conference.

Bravo. Nice to see that some Republicans are willing to hold the line on spending.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A new editorial in the Washington Examiner:

If Bush is truly serious about protecting the powers and prerogatives of his office, he will set aside his veto reservations and slam-dunk the emergency funding bill if it comes to his desk in anything remotely resembling the form in which the Senate passed it last week. Bush originally asked for $92 billion to support U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and to assist with hurricane recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast. The House approved the bill substantially as Bush requested.

Things were completely different in the Senate, where the Old Bulls had a field day larding the measure up with nearly $20 billion worth of special-interest earmarks like $700 million for the “Railroad to Nowhere” in Mississippi. A valiant effort by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to remove a dozen of the worst earmarks failed and the thoroughly stuffed final measure was approved by a wide margin. Passage came within days of release of a highly credible survey that said stopping such spending sprees was the public’s top priority.

That is why the conditions could not now be more perfect for a presidential veto. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and 34 other senators vowed to vote to sustain a presidential veto if needed and House Speaker Dennis Hastert declared the $109 billion earmark-stuffed monstrosity “dead on arrival” in the lower chamber. . . .

If Bush fails to deliver his first veto now, it won’t much matter for the rest of his term what he thinks about executive branch powers, because the Old Bulls in Congress will have all the privileges that count.

Read the whole thing — er, especially if you’re President Bush.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Reader Gerald Hogan emails:

Porkbusters having an effect?

I forwarded the list of the senators who had voted three times against pork to my senators, Chambliss and Isaakson, and asked why their names weren’t on the list. Just now I received a call from Rich in Senator Chambliss’ office. Rich said the senator wanted me to know that he voted against the budget bill this morning. I’m registered as a Republican but have never been active in politics since my days in the Jaycees many years ago. The only thing I get from this is that the GOP is finally understanding that voters are upset. Go Porkbusters!

If you hear anything from your Senators or Representatives, let me know. Please put “porkbusters” in the subject line to help make sure I don’t miss it.

UPDATE: Stephen Lalley has heard from Sen. Patty Murray. Click “read more” for the results.

Continue reading ‘PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Reader Gerald Hogan emails:

Porkbusters having an effect?

I forwarded the list…’ »

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Dennis Hastert says the Senate spending bill is dead on arrival:

As it’s currently drafted, the Senate’s $109 billion emergency spending bill is dead on arrival in the House. President Bush requested $92 billion for the War on Terror and some hurricane spending. The House used fiscal restraint, but now the Senate wants to come to the table with a tab that’s $17 billion over budget. The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers.

Good. Bill Frist doesn’t like it much, either, though only a few of his colleagues joined him in voting against it.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Mark Tapscott observes:

In other words, the conferees appointed by the Senate’s Republican and Democrat leadership to negotiate with the House voted in favor of earmarks twice as often as they did against earmarks. Of the 28 conferees, 13 voted for earmarks every chance they had. The only conferee who voted against earmarks at every opportunity was Kohl.

Of the 23 votes cast by conferees against earmarks, 11 were by GOP senators, the other dozen by Democrats. That apparent balance is a bit deceiving, however, as there were 8 GOP senators who voted against earmarks every time, compared to five among the Democrats.

I’d like to see a lot of incumbents voted out.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Over at the Porkbusters site, there’s a report card of how Senators are voting:

Listed below are Senators, grouped by how many times they voted to support one the three Coburn anti-pork amendments that have come to a vote: the CSX Railroad relocation in Mississippi (Coburn lost 47-50); the “seafood promotion strategies package” (Coburn won 51-44), and the Northrup Grumman bailout (Coburn lost 48-51).

More details to come as we continue to monitor the Senate’s progress…

You may want to let your Senators know how you feel about these and related votes.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: As Capt. Ed notes, it was a bad day for PorkBusters yesterday:

The projects that got past Senate pork hawks like Tom Coburn were a $200 million bailout of Northrup Grumman for indemnifyng the defense contractor against losses that its insurers refuse to cover. Coburn faced stiff opposition from Trent Lott, the man who apparently wants to make a career out of defying voters on earmarks, and Thad Cochran. Both Republicans insisted that the government needed to replace the loss, even though Northrup made a 7.1% operating margin in 2005, up from 6.7% in 2004 and 5.6% in 2003. That represent $2.4 billion in profit, an increase from $2.3B in 2004 and $1.9B in 2003.

Why does a corporation that made $2.4 billion in profit need another $200 million from American taxpayers to cover a loss they’ve absorbed in that same year?

Rather than focus resources on the truly needy and on real emergencies, Lott and Cochran have manipulated the relief bill to stick money into Northrup’s pockets. Perhaps folks from Lott’s home state of Mississippi should ask themselves why Lott seems more concerned about the travails of a corporation that had its best year ever than those who had their entire lives wiped out by Katrina. No wonder Lott proclaimed himself “damned tired” of constituents who question his pork-barrel activities — who’d want to keep explaining this? . . .

Congress has a rather narrow view of profit in a free-market society. When ExxonMobil makes 10.7% profit, they decry the “windfall profit” of a corporation. When Northrup Grumman makes 7.1%, they qualify for a bailout.

It’s as if there’s nothing going on but graft and shakedowns.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Porkbusters gets a mention in this Time magazine profile of Sen. Tom Coburn’s anti-pork efforts:

While they may not endorse his views on social issues, Coburn’s allies on his efforts to cut spending are perhaps the two most popular men in the Senate: Illinois Democrat Barack Obama and Arizona Republican John McCain. Before Coburn arrived in 2005, McCain was the chamber’s most vocal basher of wasteful spending, but he has eagerly ceded that to Coburn, while working with the Oklahoma Senator to strategize on how to cut earmarks from this month’s war spending bill. Obama, much to the left of Coburn, is an unlikely friend, but the Senate’s most famous freshman said his and Coburn’s wives became fast friends during the orientation for new senators and their families, and Obama has vocally supported Coburn’s spending efforts. “He’s fearless in his approach,” says Obama. Coburn has also found support from groups like Citizens Against Government Waste and the American Conservative Union, as well as a blog called porkbusters, to which his office is often feeding information about egregious earmarks, in the hopes of stirring opposition in conservative blogs that could embarrass his colleagues into limiting their earmarks.

Sadly, many of his colleagues seem immune to embarrassment, which is why the GOP is in big trouble.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: More developments:

The playground bully in the Senate _ the Appropriations Committee _ actually took a loss last week at the hands of senators determined to strip so-called pork barrel projects from a bill that’s supposed to be devoted to the war in Iraq and hurricane relief.

And the House this week will vote on requiring members to attach their names to “earmarks” _ those hometown projects slipped into spending bills. The idea is that the sunshine of public scrutiny will mean fewer wasteful, silly sounding projects like $500,000 for a teapot museum in Sparta, N.C.

Lawmakers say voters are getting sick of all this pork; there’s even a recent poll that says reforming earmarks is the most important issue facing Congress. Could it be that politicians are losing their appetite for the other white meat?

Definitely not, alas. And Trent Lott is dissing Bush and bragging about how “wily” he is:

Not only is Lott not worried that Bush might for the first time in his presidency veto a spending bill, Lott thinks quite highly of himself and Sen. Thad Cochran, Lott’s colleague who happens to be Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Senator Cochran and I are wily guys,” Lott boasted to the newspaper.

He was referring to the emergency spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Gulf Coast hurricane recovery that Lott and Cochran stuffed with a $700 million earmark to move the “Railroad to Nowhere” in order to clear the way for gambling interests and other developers to construct new facilities along the Mississippi coast.

Lott and other senators pumped the bill to more than $106 billion with earmarks added to the emergency bill that originally included $92 billion. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, failed by one vote last week to secure passage of an amendment that would have stripped the $700 million out of the bill.

Who was the one vote? Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who earlier in the day had told Bush he and others had rounded up enough senators to sustain a presidential veto.

Call me crazy, but it seems like these guys aren’t just killing their party, but actually bragging about it. That doesn’t seem very “wily” to me.

UPDATE: Reader Eric Alexander writes:

I think – really – that he would be just ecstatic if the Republicans lost control of the House and the Senate. I suspect he’s been waiting a long time to get back at the President and the party for stripping him of his leadership status over his tin-eared Thurmond remarks a few years back, and he sees his chance to stick it to them. And I think he’s especially thrilled he can do so while doing what comes naturally to him – pushing pork for his Mississippi good-old-boy cronies.

Well, that’s just another reason to think he deserved to lose his leadership position, isn’t it?

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This sounds promising:

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn this week will continue to raise havoc on the Senate floor. The Senate is still debating its emergency supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Katrina.

Coburn filed an amendment and then used parliamentary tools to split it into 19 seperate amendments attacking non-emergency pork spending projects in the bill. Last week he had some modest success, and looks to capitalize on that momentum this week.

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote for cloture — to limit debate — on the spending bill. Because Coburn crafted his amendment strategy with precise language all of his amendments will be germaine post cloture. In other words, limiting debate on the bill will in no way affect the good Doctor’s ability to raise heck on the Senate floor this week.

Expect Coburn to receive votes on many of his remaining amendments that would save the taxpayers billions.

There are rumors floating around the Hill that last week the GOP conference began to come to grips with the fact that they have been spending the people’s money carelessly. The way the Senate votes on many of Coburn’s amendments this week will prove those rumors true or false.

Keep your fingers crossed. And perhaps give your Senators a call: (202) 224-3121.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This is interesting:

Three members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville, have taken the unusual step of revealing the lists of local projects they are pushing to be included in next year’s federal budget.

Cooper, a Democrat, along with Democratic Reps. Lincoln Davis of Pall Mall and Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis are seeking more than $500 million for more than 100 projects, although only a handful of those requests will end up being approved.

The practice of funding special requests is viewed by some as controversial because of the secrecy surrounding the requests, the growth in their number, the role lobbyists play in obtaining special funding, and how these projects skew the budget-building process.

Congress placed 12,852 special funding requests in last year’s appropriations bills, with a value of $67 billion, but only 4 percent were actually in the text of the bills where they could be easily found, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

“Earmarks (the special funding projects) can be spent wisely, but there is no safeguard,” Cooper said. “I think a process so open to abuse has to be curbed.”

Cooper wants these special requests eliminated and federal funds distributed through the formal budget process based on need, not on political or special-interest power.

Davis thinks requests that come from special-interest lobbyists should be banned, but others in the delegation defend them.

Read the whole thing. (Via Bill Hobbs).

UPDATE: Reader TC Lynch emails (more in response to the last Hobbs item than this one, I think): “As you’ve noted, going after Bill Hobbs has to be one of the dumbest things, in retrospect, any Tenny Democrat could ever have done, in the view of ‘advancing’ the state party’s agenda. Instead of neutering him, they allowed him to totally cut loose.”

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This Washington Post piece on pork says that the PorkBusters approach is wrong:

Congress often seems to have devolved into a policy-free zone, where pork not only greases the wheels of legislation, but is the very purpose of legislation. Last year’s energy bill, enacted the same day as the transportation bill, did not reduce high gas prices or U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but it did shower billions of dollars on well-connected energy firms.

As former GOP Senate aide Winslow T. Wheeler detailed in his legislate-and-tell book “The Wastrels of Defense,” Congress even turned its post-Sept. 11, 2001, military bills into receptacles for pork, including gyms, chapels, parking garages and museums. “What was once a predictable but part-time activity has become a full-time preoccupation that permeates Congress’s activities and decision-making processes,” Wheeler wrote.

Egregious earmarks are certainly a symptom of this phenomenon, such as the largesse that Cunningham stashed into military bills for a contractor who bribed him and the economically and environmentally dubious water projects that the Army Corps of Engineers was building in Louisiana when it should have been protecting New Orleans. That’s why some proposed earmark reform makes sense, especially rules that would identify their source, require votes on them and prevent them from slipping into huge bills at the last minute.

But it is hard to see how preventing individual members of Congress from proposing individual measures — even measures designed to benefit their constituents or contributors — would serve the cause of democracy.

I think the key here is transparency. If wide attention weren’t bad for pork-related efforts, Congress wouldn’t try so hard to hide them.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: More Mollohan developments:

The F.B.I. has notified three nonprofit organizations created by Representative Alan B. Mollohan and financed primarily through special federal appropriations he steered their way that they should expect subpoenas soon for financial and other records. . . .

The nonprofits at issue are the Vandalia Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Scientific Research and the Canaan Valley Institute. The F.B.I.’s notification to them has occurred over the last two days and signals that the bureau is looking deeper into the 500-page complaint, which among other things suggests ties between the special appropriations, or earmarks, and Mr. Mollohan’s personal real estate investments.

This sort of thing wouldn’t happen if appropriators like Mollohan didn’t enjoy so much untrammeled authority over government funds.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: N.Z. Bear emails that my linkage of the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll below was too coy, and that I should have trumpeted this bit:

Among all Americans, a 39% plurality say the single most important thing for Congress to accomplish this year is curtailing budgetary “earmarks” benefiting only certain constituents.

He’s right — controlling pork is the single highest-priority item identified in the poll, and I should have made more of that. Mark Tapscott summarizes the message to the GOP Congress:

You think the folks back home love those earmarks, right? Guess again, Bunko Boy! And Girl! New NBC survey puts ending earmarks on top public’s priorities!

So how about some action here?

UPDATE: “Pork Awareness Month!” I like it.

Much more on pork-related developments here.

REPUBLICANS ARE SAGGING IN THE POLLS: Maybe, in part, it’s because Harry Reid is doing better than Bill Frist in fighting pork?

Here’s the kind of response that’s getting from former GOP supporters: “Okay, real conservatives, Republicans, and libertarians, stay home. Just…stay home in 2006. Or – what the hell – vote for a Democrat. We have to wake up the Stupid Party, before it completely merges itself into the Republicrat Statist Party.”

I think that a GOP disaster is now officially looming.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s an interesting report:

Senators Frist, McConnell, and Sessions just finished assembling over 34 Senate signatures on a letter backing the veto threat the President laid out yesterday on the groaning Senate supplemental. This plan—have the President say he will veto a fat bill, and have the Senate leadership deliver fiscal conservatives to that cause—should serve as a rallying point for those who have been horrified at the spending spree underway in Congress, for which the House, Senate, and White House all share responsibility. It’s time to rally to the fiscal conservative flag, and the sooner our friends in the conservative community know that there is a majority in the Senate worth listening too when it comes to spending matters, the sooner people can realize what the stakes really are in November.

I think that this should be a bipartisan issue — but it’s certainly true that Republicans have the most at stake in getting this under control at the moment, since they’re in charge.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Heritage Foundation’s Andrew Grossman notes that the White House is finally showing some backbone on the railroad to nowhere. It’s even making veto noises!

Let’s hope this amounts to something. There’s much more background here, including this observation:

Keeping spending down below the President’s initial request level is important, but how that money is spent matters, too. The President should therefore threaten to veto a bill that contains any extraneous spending items–that is, anything that is not truly emergency spending. Funding for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq qualifies and is fair game for a supplemental bill. Hurricane-related funding that addresses immediate, on-the-ground needs qualifies, too. But not pork projects. Whatever its merit, the “Railroad to Nowhere,” for example, is just not an emergency need. Little, if any, of the junk that the Senate has thrown into the supplemental and is still considering adding makes the cut, either.

If it’s not an emergency need, it shouldn’t be in the supplemental. That’s a simple rule, and one that the President should enforce.

Yes. It would be political gold for the White House (which, God knows, needs it!) and it might win over some of those many disgruntled Republican voters who are otherwise likely to stay home in November.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: USA Today reports:

Sen. Arlen Specter obtained a $200,000 grant last year for a Philadelphia foundation represented by the son of one of Specter’s top aides,the latest example of how the Pennsylvania Republican has helped clients of lobbyists related to members of his staff.

Bill Reynolds, Specter’s chief of staff, said an investigation found two lobbyists who sought financial favors and who were related to staff members. Specter has changed his office rules to ban lobbying by staffers’ relatives.

“The better practice is what we have now. We’re living and learning,” Specter said in an interview.

So are the rest of us. One lesson is that when members of Congress “help” people get grants, it’s a lure for people who want them to use whatever influence they can. And no, the Reynolds here is no relation.

UPDATE: Meanwhile Ed Cone notes a report from the WSJ:

Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, the West Virginia Democrat whose real-estate holdings and financial disclosures have drawn federal scrutiny, last year bought a 300-acre farm with the head of a small defense contractor that had won a $2.1 million contract from funds that the congressman added to a 2005 spending bill.

The joint purchase of the farm, which sits on the Cheat River in West Virginia, is the most direct tie yet disclosed between Rep. Mollohan and a beneficiary of the federal spending he has steered toward his home state. It raises new questions about possible conflicts of interest by Rep. Mollohan and his use of such spending. House ethics guidelines warn lawmakers to avoid business deals with those who benefit from their official acts. . . . Over the past five years, Rep. Mollohan steered more than $200 million to a network of nonprofit groups in West Virginia, including more than $20 million in the latest fiscal year, often through narrow spending provisions known as earmarks. The Wall Street Journal reported in an April 7 story that executives of these groups and companies had contributed regularly to Rep. Mollohan’s campaigns and to his family foundation. They included at least two people who were partners with the lawmaker in various real-estate investments.

I agree with Ed that the “Cheat River” part is priceless.

UPDATE: And don’t miss this enormous pork-news roundup from the Heritage Foundation.

MORE DISENCHANTMENT WITH CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS, this time from Mark Steyn:

Christopher Hitchens said on the Hugh Hewitt show recently that he “dislikes” the Republican party but has “contempt” for the Democrats. I appreciate the distinction, though I’m not sure I could muster even that level of genial tolerance. . . .

But what happened to the other guys? “The Republican party,” says Arlen Specter, “is now principally moderate, if not liberal” — and he means it as a compliment. “I’ll just say this about the so-called porkbusters,” chips in Trent Lott. “I’m getting damn tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble since Katrina.”

Well, to be honest, I’m a good half-decade past getting damn tired of hearing from Trent Lott. But the difference is that, as a member of the pork-funding sector of the economy, I pay for him; he doesn’t pay for me.

He’s starting to sound like Bill Quick.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: I think this is right:

It was only last month that the Senate staged a breast-beating debate about the need to control the rampant pork-spending abuse of earmarks — boondoggle appropriations tucked into vital legislation with little public scrutiny. Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, orated on the side of the angels in calling for reform. Well, the angels have lost another player. As the Senate returns from recess it will confront the year’s prize porker blithely trotted out by Senator Lott — a $700 million earmark to relocate a Gulf Coast rail line, which was just rebuilt, post-Katrina, at a cost of $250 million. . . .

Even worse, Senator Lott and his fellow Mississippi Republican, Thad Cochran, are attaching this frivolous add-on to a bill that is supposed to be used to pay for emergencies — specifically the war in Iraq and hurricane reconstruction.

Senator Lott angrily resents any description of his pet project as a right of way to the slot machines. He insists the rail line needs higher ground and his constituents better protection. But it seems clear the twin traumas of Iraq and Katrina are being used as cover. Economic development is a fine goal for the Gulf Coast, but it deserves careful consideration, not a devious rush to the pork barrel.

Indeed.

UPDATE: People who think that this kind of thing won’t matter to the GOP should read this post.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This is pretty cool. In the Philadelphia Inquirer PorkBusters gets called “the most effective citizen-journalist watchdog movement in a generation.”

I don’t know about that — it sounds like a bit of an exaggeration — but it’s nice to hear. There’s no question that PorkBusters has gotten a fair amount of attention, and that politicians are at least embarrassed about pork.

PorkBusters has certainly irritated Trent Lott, which is some evidence of success, and there’s a report that earmarks are down 37% presumably as the result of public pressure.

That’s not bad for a project only a few months old, run by a couple of bloggers without a budget with help from other folks in the blogosphere. But it’s going to take more than this to make a real difference. Changing the psychology is the first step, and that’s happened. And, perhaps, we’ve even started to change behavior. But we need a lot more of that, and I suspect that structural changes will be needed, too.

Still, it’s always nice to be noticed.

MORE ON PORK: “Earmark reform is now a hot topic: The online Porkbusters movement has raised awareness of it; the Senate has passed a version of earmark reform; President Bush even addressed the issue in his State of the Union. Boehner is turning up the pressure at exactly the right time. But he and Speaker Dennis Hastert need to do more if they want to revive this budget. They need to use their power on the House GOP Steering Committee — which hands out committee assignments — as leverage against Lewis: He needs to know that his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee is at stake.”

UPDATE: Much more here.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Tim Chapman writes:

You’ve got to hand it to some Republican appropriators. Despite swirling political winds that threaten to blow the GOP majority right out of town, they keep on keeping on.

Never mind the fact that the pungent stench from the Abramoff scandal still permeates the corridors of K Street and Capitol Hill. Never mind the fact that this scandal revealed the questionable practice of Congressional earmarking run amok. And never mind that it was only months ago that the Senate debate over the poster child of bad earmarking – the Alaskan Bridge to Nowhere – ignited a firestorm of criticism over the way Congress spends American tax dollars.

No, these considerations are a mere after thought – an annoyance – to many congressional appropriators who remain intent on bringing home the bacon, no matter what the cost. . . .

Now, the “emergency” spending issue is set to come before the Senate. Next week, when the Senate returns from its Easter recess, the chamber will debate an emergency supplemental bill. Aside from the above mentioned Rail Road to Nowhere, the supplemental contains over $82 million in “emergency” funds for disasters that happened prior to 2005 and going back all the way to 1999.

Nowhere in the text of the bill or in any committee reports are the projects that this money would fund listed. Instead, curious parties are referred to a table maintained by the Federal Highways Administration that lists the projects.

So now, not only are appropriators content to designate questionable projects as “emergency” funding, but they do so without even listing where the money will go in the text of the legislation.

So much for transparency.

Plus there’s this, from the Christian Science Monitor:

Remember Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere”? It’s about to be topped by what critics call Mississippi’s “railroad to nowhere,” which is quickly becoming the poster child for excessive spending by the Republican-controlled Congress.

The project, which was added to a $106.5 billion emergency defense spending bill in the Senate, would relocate a Gulf Coast rail line inland, to higher ground. Never mind that the hurricane-battered line was just repaired at a cost of at least $250 million. Or that at $700 million, the project championed by Mississippi’s two US senators is being called the largest “earmark” ever.

The controversy points to a deepening split in the GOP over whether to rein in spending in the face of wartime commitments and record deficits – and whether failing to do so threatens their majority in this fall’s midterm elections.

Yes they should — and yes, it does.

By the way, Trent Lott’s railroad to nowhere now has a dedicated website. I don’t think he’ll like that.

Much more at the Heritage Policy Weblog.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Blogger LawHawk offers a defense of Trent Lott’s railroad-to-nowhere project. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but given that I’ve just come to dislike Trent Lott in general, I feel that I should go out of my way to link suggestions that I’m wrong about this project.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Mark Hessey emails: “Hmm, before I clicked thru I was skeptical as well, but I came away thinking LawHawk makes a pretty good argument.” Reader Christian Lane thinks that LawHawk’s argument underscores Trent Lott’s problems:

I think what this shows is that Trent Lott has become an ineffective advocate for his constituents’ needs. The relocation of the railway may be a good idea or even necessary, but Mr. Lott’s support for it obscures the merits. If his first priority were serving the needs of the citizens of Mississippi, he would either (i) take a strong stand against pork, including specific pork for Mississippi, to (hopefully) demonstrate that he is against pork, but the railway project isn’t pork or (ii) step aside. I doubt that will happen and I think the failure to do so implies that Mr. Lott’s real motivations as a Senator are not necessarily in line with the needs of the citizens of Mississippi.

Ouch!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Brent Ramsey emails:

Have to give you some input on the CSX railroad project supported by Senators Lott and Cochran. I lived in Long Beach, MS for 23 years. That project has been on the books at least that long and longer. The way that railway crosses the towns of Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, and Pass Christian with literally dozens of road crossing many of which have no physical barriers, just a warning sign for a railroad crossing kills dozens of Mississipians each year. It is a worthwhile project to protect lives and to improve rail transportation across the MS gulf coast. I retired and left MS in 2002 and now live in western NC so I have no vested interest just an opinion that it is a worthwhile project and really is not correctly described as pork.

Hmm. Well, it may be worthwhile, though that still leaves open the question of whether federal taxpayers should pay for it. And, even if that’s true, a project that Mississippi has been trying to get for so long shouldn’t be funded as Katrina relief, much less snuck into a war appropriations bill. It should stand, or fall, on its own merits. One characteristic of “pork” is that it avoids the normal budgetary scrutiny. That seems to be what Lott has been trying to do here.

Mississippi reader Lisa (last name withheld on request) writes:

If I did not know the local history of this project, I might think differently than I do. I just think it stinks to use the worst disaster in American history to get funding for a local pet project, when so many people are still so devastated.

I live on the Ms. Gulf Coast . . . Gulfport has wanted a new east west corridor for decades and could not come up with the money to fund it.

Relocating the CSX railroad and using the right of way for a new road will not take all of the traffic off of Hwy 90, the casino’s are located there.

So Hwy 90 will still be a vital road, you are just adding another road to be rebuilt in case of another Katrina.

And I could mention that the railroad acted as a dam preventing the devastating storm surge from going even further inland.

The project has enough merit that Gulfport has been looking into it for years. They have just come up with a clever way for you (the federal taxpayers) to pay for it.

Sounds like pork to me.

Me too.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Trent Lott isn’t giving up:

Mississippi’s two U.S. senators included $700 million in an emergency war spending bill to relocate a Gulf Coast rail line that has already been rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina at a cost of at least $250 million.

Republican Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, who have the backing of their state’s economic development agencies and tourism industry, say the CSX freight line must be moved to save it from the next hurricane and to protect Mississippi’s growing coastal population from rail accidents. But critics of the measure call it a gift to coastal developers and the casino industry that would be paid for with money carved out of tight Katrina relief funds and piggybacked onto funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It is ludicrous for the Senate to spend $700 million to destroy and relocate a rail line that is in perfect working order, particularly when it recently underwent a $250 million repair,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who is planning to challenge the funding when the $106.5 billion war spending bill reaches the Senate floor. “American taxpayers are generous and are happy to restore damaged property, but it is wrong for senators to turn this tragedy into a giveaway for economic developers.”

You can find a defense of Lott’s plan — which I don’t find terribly convincing, but your results may vary — here.

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s a defense of Trent Lott’s “railroad to nowhere.”

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Newt Gingrich is warning Republicans about pork:

With the federal budget deficit at record levels, Gingrich said Americans are losing patience with “pork,” the discretionary spending earmarked to benefit local political constituencies.

“We were sent here to reform Washington, not to be co-opted by Washington,” he said.

Indeed. Meanwhile, in a battle of pork vs. the Navy, guess who wins? Trent Lott’s co-Senator, Thad Cochran (R-MS) is involved.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A scathing editorial in the Wall Street Journal:

If Republicans lose control of Congress in November, they might want to look back at last Thursday as the day it was lost. That’s when the big spenders among House Republicans blew up a deal between the leadership and rank-in-file to impose some modest spending discipline.

Unlike the collapse of the immigration bill, this fiasco can’t be blamed on Senate Democrats. This one is all about Republicans and their refusal to give up their power to spend money at will and pass out “earmarks” like a bartender offering drinks on the house. The chief culprits are the House Appropriators, led by Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis of California and his 13 subcommittee chairmen known as “cardinals.” If Republicans lose the House–and they are well on their way–Mr. Lewis deserves the moniker of the minority maker. . . .

A category five political storm is building in GOP precincts around the country, and it is going to blow Republicans right out of the majority in November if they don’t soon give their supporters some reason to re-elect them. So far this year they’ve passed limits on free speech that liberals love, but they haven’t been able to extend the wildly successful 2003 tax cuts by even a mere two years. And now they won’t even allow a vote on budget reforms that their own President and a majority of their own Members support.

At the current pace, a Democratic majority in Congress would be preferable, if only for reasons of truth in advertising.

Ouch.

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THERE’S LOTS OF NEW STUFF up at the PorkBusters website. Just keep scrolling.

Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. is running for Senate in Tennessee, and his bus tour took him right past our house. He stopped by for a rare in-studio interview (since we usually do these by phone), and talked about Iraq, Iran, alternative energy, ANWR drilling and nuclear power, gun rights, immigration (he supports the Sensenbrenner bill, and explains why), health care, and more. Including, of course, PorkBusters.

I found it a very interesting interview. We’re not on the same page on some issues (I think he’s overoptimistic, to put it mildly, about the amount of cooperation we can expect from Russia and China on Iran), but we agree on some others (including the pork). He’s a smart guy, and I found him less polished-and-packaged than I’d anticipated; it’s easy to see why people expect him to have a big future in politics.

Helen liked the bus, and we sent Rep. Ford off with some reading material to help him pass the hours on the road.

You can listen to the interview directly (no iPod needed!) by clicking right here. You can also get it via iTunes.

You can get a low-fi version, suitable for dialup, cellphones, etc. here, and there’s an archive of all our previous podcasts here.

As always, my lovely and talented cohost is soliciting your comments and suggestions.

Music is by Mobius Dick.

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porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The “Ending Earmarks Express” continues:

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s nationwide “Ending Earmarks Express” bus tour visited Charleston, WV, today for a stop outside U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd’s office. According to the Wall Street Journal, since 2000, Sen. Byrd and U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan (1st Dist. – WV) have helped secure $6 million in earmarks for the Mountain Made Foundation, which operates MountainMade.com, an Amazon.com-style e-commerce website where artisans sell their products. The Journal also reported in a front-page article on Friday that Congressman Mollohan is the subject of a federal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the earmarks he secured for the Mountain Made Foundation and other West Virginia not-for-profit groups.

They’ve taken on King Pork in his lair!

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: You have to love this:

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s nationwide “Ending Earmarks Express” bus tour visited Northeast Ohio today and made a stop at the University of Akron, which recently received $500,000 in federal funding for the “Hard Choices Program,” which teaches students how difficult it is to balance the federal budget.

“We have a great deal of respect for the University of Akron, but we find this particular federal earmark extremely ironic,” said Americans for Prosperity Foundation President Tim Phillips. “Considering that more than $47 billion was spent on earmarked projects last year, we have to wonder if one of the ‘hard choices’ that students learn about is whether or not to stop funding pet projects with earmarks.”

Did I mention that they’ll be visiting Trent Lott’s railroad to nowhere in Mississippi?

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: John Fund writes about Republican spending problems:

Republicans should have learned from the reaction of their core voters to last fall’s pork-stuffed transportation bill and the bloated Hurricane Katrina relief measure that excess spending was driving their base crazy. Earmarks–home-state projects slipped into budget bills without adequate review or transparency–became a dirty political word, led by the infamous $220 million Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska.

Apparently the lesson hasn’t sunk in, especially with porkmeister Jerry Lewis of California, chair of the House Appropriations Committee:

After tough negotiations, a deal was finally struck between GOP leaders and the reformers. First, members would have to have their names attached to individual earmarks. Second, projects that had not been included in either House or Senate bills but were created out of conference reports negotiated between the two parties would be subject to a debate and vote on the House floor. Simple transparency and accountability, you would think.

But not to House Appropriations Committee chairman Jerry Lewis. “The appropriators deep-sixed it,” Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told National Journal. “They’re taking their toys and going home.” Last Thursday at 6:20 p.m., Mr. Lewis’s staff sent out an e-mail declaring that the reforms were unacceptable and trod on the prerogatives of the powerful committee, which is known as “Congress’ favor factory.”

In his email, Dave Gibbons, an Appropriations Committee staffer, told fellow committee staffers that Mr. Lewis “will NOT SUPPORT passage of the RULE and/or the BUDGET RESOLUTION tomorrow. He also requested that you inform your members of his position in this regard and asks that they likewise support the Committee.” Mr. Lewis followed up with his own statement saying it was “unfortunate that the whims of a few would prevent the overwhelming majority of our members” from passing a budget.

“Lewis’s move is political suicide for the party,” one top GOP official told me. “He is putting his self-interest ahead of the GOP caucus, the party and the country. If the president and Speaker [Dennis] Hastert don’t shut him down, then any pretense we are a reform party goes out the window.” . . . From their scramble to ram through a national legislative solution to Terri Schiavo’s plight, to their overreaction to Hurricane Katrina, to their failure to recognize the public’s disgust with pork-barrel projects, to the Dubai Ports deal, Republicans have appeared to the world to be as unprincipled and rudderless as the politicians they campaigned against back in 1994. Unless they change course dramatically in the seven months between now and Election Day, they may well find themselves facing the same fate as the Democratic political dinosaurs of that year that they replaced.

I hope somebody talks to Hastert about this. Otherwise, well, there are Democrats who are supporting these kinds of reforms.

UPDATE: More bad indicators for Republicans. The question is whether they’ll be inspired to take corrective action, or panicked into doing something stupid. I know which way to bet, but . . .

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN)’s office sent me this by Ford on pork:

A bipartisan problem demands a bipartisan solution. In that spirit, I offer several ideas to give Americans the best value for their tax dollars.

First, institute a “stand by your earmark” rule. If a member of Congress wants to insert an earmark into a bill at the final stage of the legislative process, he should be forced to sign his name to the provision and explain why it is in the interests of the nation as a whole. This rule would prevent special-interest favors from being slipped into bills at the last minute with no one claiming responsibility.

At the same time, members of Congress would have a chance to defend projects that have genuine value. For example, I would be proud to stand up and persuade my colleagues that it was worthwhile to invest the $1 million in federal money that was approved last year for LeMoyne-Owen College’s juvenile asthma research program, which is benefiting the entire nation.

Second, the secretive nature of lobbying is one of the main reasons Congress spends money on projects that serve special interests at the expense of the national interest. Lobbyists should be required to disclose who all of their clients are and what specific provisions they are lobbying for.

Third, we should institute a rule that any new spending has to be offset somewhere else in the budget. Requiring Congress to balance its books every year — like any business or family — would force us to separate national needs from political luxuries.

Fourth, this very simple idea might be the most effective: Let the American people read bills before Congress votes on them. Post the entire text of the bills, including every pork project and special-interest provision, on the Internet for all to see, for at least 72 hours before the vote.

Forcing members of Congress to defend the indefensible would make them think twice before wasting taxpayer dollars.

This sounds pretty good — it’s basically the PorkBusters legislative program — and I hope to talk to Ford (who’s running for Senate now) about this in the near future.

UPDATE: Chattanooga reader C.G. Browning is skeptical:

Everything Ford writes is an excellent idea. Does anyone think he could possibly get enough support for just one, I repeat, just one of these ideas to become a reality?

I don’t think so and neither does Mr. Ford. Government spending is conducted in secret and will remain so to keep the ones in power, in power.

I think it’s possible to change dynamics like that, if you pick the right moment. And I think that this may be the right moment. It’s certainly worth a try. The history of politics in this country, after all, is a history of things that nobody ever thought could be changed, changing.

YOU CAN NOW GET PorkBusters coffee mugs proudly emblazoned with Trent Lott’s annoyed quote!

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Rep. Allen Mollohan of West Virginia is being investigated. Reportedly,

Mollohan’s household assets exponentially grew (from $565K in ’00 to at least $6.3M in’ 04).

In addition, the article notes that one of his non-profit groups is “funded almost entirely through provisions he put into annual spending bills.” NRCC Chmn Tom Reynolds called today for Mollohan to step down as ranking member of the ethics cmte until an investigation is complete.

If this story has legs, it could muddy the Dem narrative of the GOP culture of corruption. It’s possible Mollohan accrued a quick fortune from real estate acquisitions and just improperly reporting his finances.

But his seniority on the Appropriations and ethics cmtes raises larger and fundamental questions about the use and abuse of earmarks. The timing also couldn’t be worse for Dems — with Tom DeLay’s resignation, a budget stalemate and immigration exposing fissures in the GOP.

More significant for our purposes is this observation from Don Surber:

Maybe the probe will lead nowhere but it shows a side of earmarks that has not occurred to Porkbusters as they rail against government waste.

Earmarks also can lead to insider playing. His ex-staffer Laura Kuhns now heads the Vandalia Heritage Foundation and sits on the boards of three other nonprofits that catch earmark money. Her Vandalia salary alone is $102,000 a year.

She and her husband are partners with Mollohan and his wife in five properties in Bald Head Island, N.C., worth $2 million.

Read the whole thing. It’s true of course, that large amounts of other people’s money tend to lead to corruption.

UPDATE: Reader Peter Malloy emails:

I hate to turn a good Porkbuster story into an anti-NYT screed (well, not really), but did you notice that the NYT front page (online) story does not get around to stating that Mollohan is a Democrat until the 8th paragraph? You can be certain that it it were a Republican, that fact would be in the headline.

Yes, as part of a “series of events raising troubling questions” about Republican corruption.

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Mary Katharine Ham reports from the launch of the Ending Earmarks Express bus tour.

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PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Just got this email from Sens. Tom Coburn and Barack Obama:

U.S. Senators Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL) today announced the introduction of legislation that would publicly disclose all recipients of federal funding and financial assistance. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590) will allow taxpayers to see how their money is being spent, Dr. Coburn said.

The federal government awards roughly $300 billion in grants annually to 30,000 different organizations across the United States, according to the General Services Administration. This bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to establish and maintain a single public Web site that lists all entities receiving federal funds, including the name of each entity, the amount of federal funds the entity has received annually by program, and the location of the entity. All federal assistance must be posted within 30 days of such funding being awarded to an organization.

“This public database will provide transparency to federal spending and will provide an important weapon taxpayers can use to hold the government accountable. The database also would help to reduce fraud, abuse and misallocation of federal funds by requiring greater accounting of federal expenditures,” Dr. Coburn said. “Every citizen in this country, after all, should have the right to know what organizations and activities are being funded with their hard-earned tax dollars.”

“At the very least, taxpayers deserve to know where their money is being spent,” Senator Obama said. “This common-sense legislation would shine a bright light on all federal spending to help prevent tax dollars from being wasted. If government spending can’t withstand public scrutiny, then the money shouldn’t be spent.”

Over the past year, the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management on which Dr. Coburn serves as chairman has uncovered tens of billions of dollars in fraud, abuse and wasteful spending, ranging from expensive leasing schemes to corporate welfare to bloated bureaucracy.

“This database would ensure such spending is better tracked and the public can hold policy makers and government agencies accountable for questionable spending decisions,” Dr. Coburn said. “If enacted, this legislation will finally ensure true accountability and transparency in how the government spends our money, which will hopefully lead to more fiscal responsibility by the federal government.”

In our podcast interview yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said that increased transparency is vital. Let’s see if he gets behind this proposal.

(Later) Here’s the key part of Frist’s comment from the interview:

GR: Do you think we’re going to see any progress in bringing pork under control before this Congress is over?

BF: We absolutely have to, and the first step is transparency, holding people accountable and making sure that if somebody has a particular interest or a particular project — and not all projects are bad, as you know — that it have the opportunity to be seen, sunlight shining on it, debated, voted upon. The age of Pork has got to be destroyed, we’ve got to get a handle on it.

There’s more, but I’m not the kind of transcriptionist that Duane Patterson is.

UPDATE: Love this from CoxandForkum!

06.04.05.LottofPork-X

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The “Ending Earmarks Express” bus tour will has added Trent Lott’s railway to nowhere to its schedule:

After departing Washington, the Ending Earmarks Express will travel next week to sites that have received questionable earmarked funds in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, Charleston, WV, Frankfort, Kentucky, and St. Louis and Columbia, Mo. A previously planned stop in Iowa has been scrapped at the last minute so the Express can make a detour to Gulfport, Miss., where a new $700 million earmark currently being considered by the Senate would be used to rip up newly reconstructed, fully operational railroad tracks to make way for a new road. A full schedule, including specific earmarks that will be highlighted at each stop, is available at www.AmericansForProsperity.org.

I think Trent’s just going to keep getting tireder.

We managed to catch up with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist this morning, and talked to him about immigration — both legal and illegal — whether the issue will split the Republican party, and what he thinks about Trent Lott’s remarks on PorkBusters, and about pork generally.

It’s shorter than our usual interview, as he only had about 10 minutes this morning (things are kind of busy in the Senate) but I think you’ll find it worth listening to.

You can listen directly by clicking here (no iPod needed!) or you can get it here via iTunes. A low-fi version for dialup is available here, and, of course, there’s an archive of all our previous podcasts here.

As always, my lovely and talented cohost is soliciting your comments and suggestions.

Music is by Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere, off the album Heartbreak and Duct Tape.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: N.Z. Bear was on Hugh Hewitt last night, reporting all sorts of developments on the PorkBusters front, going well beyond Trent Lott’s public PorkBusters snit. The transcript and audio can be found here.

Here’s an excerpt:

HH: And that is a problem. Last question, N.Z. During the leadership vote that led to Majority Leader Boehner’s election, many promises were made about transparency to the internet community. Do you think they’ve been met and kept?

NZ: I would say at this point it’s safe to say that they have not been met. My hope is that we will see more progress on that in the coming months. But I certainly can’t say I’m impressed thus far at any particular progress in that direction. The only notable effort that really came out in terms of transparency that I have seen was again, Senator Coburn made a proposal that would have required a great deal of transparency, and set up a public database for Congressional funding, and it was shot down rather dramatically, I believe, a couple of days back.

We’ve been let down by the Congressional Republicans. Again.

Meanwhile, here’s a new oversight website set up by Sen. Coburn’s office to help track wasteful spending.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Hey, maybe it’s not just Trent Lott who’s getting tired: Apparently, Congressional earmark requests are down 37% this year.

I think we need to keep the pressure up.

Meanwhile, Tim Chapman reports that Senate Appropriators have been caught fudging the truth.

TIM CHAPMAN NOTES those pesky PorkBusters.

And Preston Taylor Holmes observes: “Well, Trent, if you and your GOP buddies walked the walk instead of just talking the ‘smaller government, fiscal restraint’ talk, you wouldn’t be having a fiscal colonoscopy.” Colonoscopies are good for you. They often get rid of problems that could be fatal later.

Blake Wylie thinks that Lott is anti-accountability.

Amusing cartoon here.

UPDATE: John Hawkins: “I keep hearing rumors that Trent Lott wants to be Senate Majority Leader again once Bill Frist leaves at the end of 2006. That would really send a great message to the voters, wouldn’t it?”

JOHN HINDERAKER on Trent Lott’s remark that he’s tired of PorkBusters: “It is common, I think, for Senators to get tired of hearing from the voters, and they tire especially quickly of hearing from taxpayers.” Indeed.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Apparently, the effort has gotten Trent Lott’s attention:

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the Republican from Mississippi, has had it to here with Porkbusters and other critics of pork barrel spending like Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, who think the federal government has better things to do with $700 million of the taxpayers money than tear up a just-repaired coastal rail line and replace it with a new highway.

Said Lott when asked by an AP reporter about criticism of the project he has long championed and which was just funded in a Senate Appropriations Committee bill to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as additional Hurricane Katrina relief:

I’ll just say this about the so-called porkbusters. I’m getting damn tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble ever since Katrina. We in Mississippi have not asked for more than we deserve. We’ve been very reasonable.”

The government just spent $300 million to repair the rail line that Lott and his fellow Mississippi Republican Senator Thad Cochran want to tear up and replace with a highway to serve the heavily populated coastal region.

I guess he’s hearing from people he’d rather not. You know, the ones who don’t have their checkbooks out.

UPDATE: N.Z. Bear writes: “I’m sorry to say it, but we have just barely gotten started making the likes of Mr. Lott tired. So I hope he’s ready for many sleepless nights to come.”

Bill Quick: “Since when does anybody ‘deserve’ somebody else’s hard-earned money?”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jane Meynardie emails: “It is my understanding, based on local press reports and town meetings discussing the recovery plan, that the government did not spend $300 million to repair the rail line. CSX spent that money from its insurance proceeds. The local government could not give CSX any quick assurance that it would be able to afford to buy out the right-of-way and, in the meantime, CSX wanted to serve its 2 customers along the existing line (reasonably enough).”

That’s not what the AP story says, but I suppose it’s possible that they’ve made a mistake.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Declan McCullagh reports that technology pork is on the rise:

Buried deep in the initial version of a vital federal spending bill last year were some unlikely items slated for government money: a Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative, a Virtual Reality Spray Paint Simulator System and a community ski association in Telluride, Colo.

Not all the programs included in earlier drafts of the legislation, which was supposed to pay for Department of Defense operations and the war in Iraq, were included in the final version that President Bush signed Dec. 30. But such earmarks for favored recipients–known colloquially as pork–have become easier than ever for politicians to secure because of the rapid growth in homeland security and military spending, especially if they can find some plausible technological veneer.

Exact figures are difficult to obtain, mostly because spending bills tend to be intentionally obfuscated and specifics are usually absent from legislative text. Government watchdogs, however, say earmarks ostensibly related to technology are clearly on the rise.

“A lot of those projects are really directed at one company rather than a larger role of improving technology,” said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

A database compiled for CNET News.com by CAGW, a taxpayer watchdog group, also indicated a rise in technology pork projects from fiscal 2003 to 2005.

Read the whole thing. He thinks that things may be improving as the result of porkbusting efforts. I hope he’s right. This is clearly evidence that we need more transparency in the process.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Mark Tapscott reports:

It’s gotten little attention in the mainstream media but a potentially landmark measure authored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, and Sen. Barrack Obama, D-IL, was taken up by the Senate today. Call it the “Show Us the Money” amendment for Uncle Sam.

The measure is Amendment 3175, which is one of a bunch of amendments to the Lobbying Reform Bill now being considered by the Senate. Odds are very good that every Member of the Senate will have the opportunity to vote for or against the Coburn/Obama amendment.

The Coburn/OBama amendment directs the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish a publicly available database of the more than $300 billion the federal government spends each year via contracts and grants to more than 30,000 groups, businesses and organizations.

Trent Lott seems to have killed it. “Put another way, Lott just told taxpayers to butt out.”

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Apparently, there’s some cost to this pork-barrel stuff:

JUNEAU — Alaska’s battered image means state lawmakers must loosen their purse strings if they want congressional aid to move the state’s big projects forward, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens told the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday.

The Alaska Republican says the nation is facing an $8 trillion deficit and paying for troops in Iraq while Alaska is enjoying a $1.4 billion surplus and has $34 billion in the bank with the Alaska Permanent Fund.

That has prompted ill will in Washington that has led critics to question the need to send Alaska federal money when the state won’t spend its own cash.

That sentiment led to the stripping of earmarks from Alaska’s two so-called “bridges to nowhere” projects last year even though Congress still appropriated the money for the Ketchikan and Anchorage projects, he said.

Now the process of earmarking is under severe attack, Stevens said.

Let’s keep attacking.

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: An interview with the lowest-ranking Republican in Congress, Rep. John Campbell. He’s only been there for 60 days and he’s already gotten 63 requests for earmarks.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: This sounds like semi-good news:

As House Republican leaders have not agreed on a final plan for earmark reforms, the internal Appropriations Committee rules changes represent the only new limits. House leaders briefly outlined possible earmark reform to rank-and-file members at a closed-door meeting yesterday morning, but fiscally conservative leaders such as Reps. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the proposal is “sketchy” and unsatisfactory.

Flake said leaders are willing to let lawmakers vote against individual earmarks in spending bills when they first reach the chamber floor but not after bills emerge from conference negotiations.

Appropriators are lobbying their colleagues to oppose dramatic earmark reform. At the same time they are implementing their own new rules.

The chairmen of appropriations subcommittees that traditionally produce among the most project-laden of the annual spending bills said they are limiting their colleagues to 10 project requests each.

This is a modest improvement, which is better than no improvement. However, it shouldn’t stand in the way of more serious reform, which this is nowhere close to.

There’s a hearing on earmark reform in the Senate, starting at 9:30 this morning. You can stream it live via a link here.

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE:

According to a new report (PDF) by the [Congressional Research Service], 95% of all pork projects are not legally binding. The report concluded that only 543 out of 12,852 earmarks were actually written into the text of the last year’s appropriations bills. As for the remainder, the report states, “Earmarks that appear in committee reports and the statements of managers do not legally bind agencies…”

This means that if Bush is serious about cutting pork, he doesn’t have to wait for a line-item veto.

UPDATE: Duane Oyen emails:

Back when I was a lowly contracts guy for DoD, the only thing that got more attention than “the General is on the floor!” was “I’m responding to a Congressional Inquiry!” The lowliest Constituent Service clerk in a congressional office only needed to send a note over to any agency and (s)he was Queen/King for A Day. It was like “The Jet Song” from West Side Story- “When you’re a staffer, you’re the swingingest thing, little boy, you’re a man, little man, you’re a KING!” Any reference in any comnmittee, conference, or floor report was treated as gospel law, unless a top agency exec was following the issue and decided that the battle was worth fighting.

This almost never happened- why? Because what goes around…… and there was/is always a way to nail someone next time if your pet language was ignored. So, compulsory or not, if there was language there advising a directed grant/procurement, you needed to write a non-compete determination & findings (D&F) to justify the exception to competition open competition, and you attached a copy of the language to the D&F when you sent it up to the Head of Contracting Activity for signature.

Never ever got questioned on one of those. The entire GC/JAG was there helping write the sole source justification.

So, the real answer still is enhanced recission authority, kill the original impoundment act, get rid of current services baseline, and so on. In fact, it is hard to imagine any reform that would be more
important than dumping the CSB.

I agree that agencies will almost never ignore those directions on their own initiative. But if the President pushes it, as part of an announced anti-Pork program, then I think things are different. Plus, even the threat of that sort of thing would likely encourage Congressional action.

CBS NEWS: Bush seeks to slim down pork projects.

Somebody send him a PorkBusters t-shirt. Then remind him that he doesn’t have to wait for a line-item veto to crusade against pork.

UPDATE: Mary Katherine Ham:

So, Bush is so enthusiastic about vetoing, he wants to create a new way to veto things, and John Kerry is agreeing with Bush.

Man, maybe I should preach on the end times tonight.

Indeed.

THE PORKBUSTERS PAGE is now at Porkbusters.org — make a note of it.

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s more on that “secret” appropriations meeting.

IN THE MAIL: Bruce Bartlett’s Impostor : How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, which seems to be setting off considerable discussion about the “end of conservatism.”

Not being a conservative myself, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, exactly. But remind me again, who was the conservative who had a decent shot at the Republican nomination in 2000? John McCain?

And if the Republicans had nominated a true-blue conservative, rather than a “compassionate conservative,” in 2000 would he have won?

As a libertarian myself, I’d love to see the nation run under small-government principles (which is part of what people are talking about here), but I also recognize that there’s no very substantial base of electoral support for that. (And the Libertarian Party hasn’t done anything to improve things; quite the contrary, it’s probably a net negative.)

You want a True Conservative in the White House? Persuade a majority of Americans that true conservatism is what they want. If you want to start on that, you might take a look at PorkBusters Hall of Shame Grand Prize Winner Ted Stevens (R-AK) and ask if he’s the best face for the Republican Party. Because right now, he is the face of the Republican Party.

hallofshame.bmp

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: We have a winner in the PorkBusters Hall of Shame. As always, it’s a dishonor just to be nominated, but I certainly do feel that the competitors have given it their all.

hallofshame.bmp

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: It’s not too late to cast your vote for the PorkBusters Hall of Shame!

Right now, Ted Stevens (R-AK) is in the lead, but it’s not over until the fat lady sings.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit of good news on pork:

BUSHNELL – Sumter County will not be pursuing federal aid to build a sports complex in the southern end of the county. When the motion was made to approve a request for federal funding, it died for lack of a second.

The issue sparked a debate Tuesday between Commissioners Dick Hoffman and Randy Mask after the matter was brought up for the second time in two weeks.

Hoffman again described the park project as a “pork” request, as he did at the meeting two weeks ago when the board was asked about funding for the complex and a hurricane shelter for the southern end of the county.

According to Citizens Against Government Waste and the Congressional Porkbusters Coalition, “pork” projects must meet two of the following criteria: they are either requested by only one chamber of Congress; they are not specifically authorized; they are not competitively awarded; they are not requested by the president; they greatly exceed the president’s budget request or the previous year’s funding; they are not the subject of Congressional hearings; or serve only a local or special interest. . . .

Hoffman said asking for government help in order to pay for projects was “too easy,” and that he would support the complex “if the citizens of this county are willing to take money out of their own pocket to pay for it.”

“That’s when the rubber hits the road,” he said.

It’s all about changing the culture.

UPDATE: It’s neck-and-neck: Robert Byrd has pulled ahead by three votes. The suspense is killing me!

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The National Journal is subscription-only and expensive, but Daniel Glover has reproduced some pork-related articles on his blog, with permission.

Here’s Tempest in a Barrel:

For $495, an outfit called TheCapitol.Net will teach you how to feed at the trough. The firm, which does training seminars on how Washington works, is offering a one-day course on how to get an earmark. If you sign up, the folks at TheCapitol.Net will even teach you how to counter “public criticism of pork.” . . .

Suddenly, however, “public criticism of pork” is all the rage, and earmarks are the target. Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., resigned from the House and is going to prison for taking bribes to use appropriations bills to steer defense contracts to his corporate friends. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to operating a favor factory that depended on getting members of Congress to help his clients in a variety of ways. Reformers have vowed to send earmarks the way of such other once-familiar Washington institutions as Duke Ziebert’s restaurant and The Washington Star.

Also, Moving Target:

“Earmarks have become the currency of corruption,” Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., wrote to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., after the guilty pleas of ex-Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. “We can’t allow this to continue.”

But the road to earmark reform is potholed with definitional booby traps. Take these examples: $1.7 million to rehabilitate historic buildings at White Grass Dude Ranch in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.; more than $1.5 billion to support “ultra-deepwater” drilling, largely directed to the Texas Energy Center in Sugar Land, Texas; a $44 million break from import duties for makers of ceiling fans, spearheaded by hardware mega-chain Home Depot.

All of the above could be considered earmarks, yet none qualify under the usual definition — that is, a project inserted into an appropriations bill by a member of Congress. The dude-ranch funding, for example, was not a request from the Wyoming congressional delegation but a line item in the White House’s 2006 National Park Service budget.

“What’s an earmark? If there’s a ship in there the administration wants, is that an earmark?” asked Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H. “The definition of how you get into this is going to be difficult.”

Read the whole thing.

And, finally, a look at Presidential vetoes of spending bills — not that we’ve seen many (by which I mean “any”) of those, lately.

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: A secret appropriations committee meeting?

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Investor’s Business Daily editorializes:

Members of Congress have developed the earmarking process into a fine art, skillfully asking for — and getting — dollars for specific local programs in their home states and districts without actually putting their names on the requests. Last year’s mountain of earmarks — 13,997 of them — cost taxpayers $27.3 billion, says Citizens Against Government Waste.

Rep. Tom Prince, a Republican from Georgia, has introduced a sensible bill that amends House rules so that members who ask for earmarks will have to attach their names to the requests. Across the way, Sen. John McCain has introduced the Pork-Barrel Reduction Act, which has a provision that also requires the identification of lawmakers who propose earmarks.

The remainder of the bill is an attempt to make it more difficult for Congress to slip through earmarks.

Forcing disclosure won’t end the problem of earmarks. Many in Congress strut and preen over their ability to bring home the pork. Shameless lawmakers such as Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have never been shy about admitting they squeeze taxpayers across the country to pay for pet projects that they believe make them look good back home.

Porkbusters, a group at truthlaidbear.com that is dedicated to cutting the budget, has named these gentlemen Nos. 1 and 2 in the Pork Hall of Shame, but there’s little chance that it bothers them.

Ideally, earmarks should be eliminated entirely. They are not legitimate federal expenditures. There are real people out there paying high taxes for goodies that others will avail themselves to.

Indeed. (Via Newsbeat1).

UPDATE: Assistant Majority Leader John Shadegg?

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Ted Barlow is ready to put an ad program on the block. “I really hope that there’s some teacher, somewhere, getting some use out of Energy Ant.”

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Writing in the Washington Post, Michael Grunwald takes a broken-windows approach to pork:

[C]onventional wisdom is congealing around the notion that Congress is what it is, and can’t be changed.

But that was once conventional wisdom about New York, too. “The most important thing we’ve learned since the mid-’90s is that there’s plenty we can do to clean up bad neighborhoods,” said Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin. It turns out that aggressive policing really can defeat an anything-goes mentality, that entrenched criminal cultures really can be reformed, that potential offenders tend not to offend when they believe their crimes will be witnessed, reported and punished. “At some point, people have to say: Enough is enough,” said Carnegie Mellon University criminologist Alfred Blumstein, author of “The Crime Drop in America.”

In Congress, unlike cities, reducing crime is less of an end in itself than a means to the end of better government; members of Congress, their aides and the lobbyists who schmooze them can victimize taxpayers without breaking any laws. Still, in this moment of runaway cynicism, it’s worth asking whether the strategies that cleaned up the mean streets can clean up K Street.

“Sure, why not?” Levin said. “You’ll have to change the culture. But we’ve learned a lot about how to do that.”

Thus culture change, and the broken-windows approach itself, is the underlying philosophy of PorkBusters, of course. Let’s keep it up.

Sen. Tom Coburn certainly is, as George Will notes:

Coburn is the most dangerous creature that can come to the Senate, someone simply uninterested in being popular. When House Speaker Dennis Hastert defends earmarks — spending dictated by individual legislators for specific projects — by saying that a member of Congress knows best where a stoplight ought to be placed, Coburn, in an act of lese-majeste, responds: Members of Congress are the least qualified to make such judgments.

Recently, when a Republican colleague called to say “his constituency” would not allow him to support Coburn on some measure, Coburn tartly told the senator that “there is not one mention in the oath [of office] of your state.” Senators are just not talked to that way under the ponderous rituals of vanity that the Senate pretends are mere politeness. . . .

Civilization depends on the ability to make even majorities blush, so it is momentous news that shame may be making a comeback, even on Capitol Hill, as a means of social control. Embarrassment is supposed to motivate improved education in kindergarten through 12th grade under the No Child Left Behind Act: That law provides for identifying failing schools, the presumption being that communities will blush, then reform. And embarrassment is Coburn’s planned cure for Congress’s earmark culture.

“Quite time-consuming” was Coburn and John McCain’s laconic description, in a letter to colleagues, of their threat to bring the Senate to a virtual standstill with challenges to earmarks. In 1999, while in the House, Coburn offered 115 anti-pork amendments to an agriculture bill — in effect a filibuster in a chamber that does not allow filibusters. Collaborating with Coburn makes McCain, the Senate’s dropout from anger management school, look saccharine.

When Coburn disparaged an earmark for Seattle — $500,000 for a sculpture garden — Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was scandalized: “We are not going to watch the senator pick out one project and make it into a whipping boy.” She invoked the code of comity: “I hope we do not go down the road deciding we know better than home state senators about the merits of the projects they bring to us.” And she warned of Armageddon: “I tell my colleagues, if we start cutting funding for individual projects, your project may be next.” But Coburn, who does not do earmarks, thinks Armageddon sounds like fun.

I suspect that a lot of people will be doing their best to undermine Coburn as a result, but I also think that it’ll be pretty obvious what they’re really about.

UPDATE: Couldn’t find it earlier — I was rushed trying to get out of DC and into the blizzard — but here’s N.Z. Bear’s post from September on culture changes and the “broken windows” theory as applied to pork and PorkBusters.

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Here’s the AP story on pork promised earlier. Excerpt:

A controversy over earmarks – the congressional name for funding pet projects – is particularly intense. Especially since one GOP-led committee compiled a secret tally sheet showing earmark requests made by Republicans calling for reform.

“Earmarks have become the currency of corruption,” Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., recently wrote Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. “We can’t allow this to continue.”

High on the list of challenges for the GOP is the annual drafting of a budget. President Bush’s appearance on Friday’s program was a reminder that he’s calling for $70 billion in savings over five years from benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and payments to farmers.

Read the whole thing. And also read this WSJ piece by Tom Coburn. (Free link).

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: There’s lots more information on the new Pork Barrel Reduction Act over at the PorkBusters site.

See the bill, and find out what you can do.

UPDATE: Here’s more on pork, from Harper’s, illustrating the importance of transparency.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Porkbusters now has a new tracking page that displays support for the Pork Barrel Reduction Act in graphic form, by state and by Senator.

At the very least, politicians now feel that they have to look as if they’re strongly in favor of reform. That’s already substantial progress over just a few months ago, but it’s no reason to let up on the pressure.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Lots of new pork-related developments.

First, John McCain announced that he is introducing a new earmark reform bill. I look forward to that.

Second, AP has a leaked list of House earmark requests and will reportedly be running a story soon.

Sunlight: A fine disinfectant.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Sooooiiieee! It’s feeding time for the hogs — and as they nose up to the trough they can fill out this Senate pork application form!

Be sure to write legibly, and use a Number Two pencil . . . .

TED STEVENS HAS PULLED AHEAD OF ROBERT BYRD in the PorkBusters Hall of Shame race. Can I call ’em, or can I call ’em?

It’s a closely watched race!

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: John Fund looks at Ted Stevens, Prince of Pork:

Everyone seems to agree that Congress needs to clean up earmarks, the special pork projects members of Congress secure often without hearings, notice or even disclosure of the direct recipient. Rep. John Boehner, the new House majority leader, laments that Congress has “become addicted to earmarks as if it were opium.” President Bush belatedly told the nation in his State of the Union address that “the federal budget has too many special-interest projects.”

Fine rhetoric, but if something drastic isn’t done, earmarks will largely survive the calls for reform. Alaska’s Sen. Ted Stevens, who has spent 37 years in Congress raiding the federal Treasury on behalf of his state, dismisses the notion that anything should threaten Alaska’s status as the No. 1 state for pork. In 2005, it hauled in $984.85 worth of pork for every resident.

Last week Mr. Stevens went so far as to chide Capitol Hill reporters for even listening to earmark critics such as Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn. “You guys fall for it and give them publicity,” he said, and no one can doubt his authority. If anyone knows about publicity, it’s the man who gave his name to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Hey, speaking of publicity, this should help Stevens pull ahead of Robert Byrd in the neck-and-neck race for the number one spot in the Porkbusters Hall of Shame! Meanwhile, Fund continues:

Earmarks represent a looming political disaster for the GOP. Last year Congress authorized a record 13,999 earmarks. The scandals surrounding just a few of them involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham have sent reporters scurrying to find what other nuggets of news might be buried in the remainder. If just 1% of the earmarks turn out to be embarrassing, that’s 140 stories. If a mere 0.1% turn out to be legally questionable, that’s 14 front-page exposés between now and the November election. Because they are in charge of Congress, Republicans will take the brunt of any political fallout, even though Democrats routinely secure an estimated 45% of earmark spending.

And the stories keep coming. A major newsmagazine is working on a piece exploring the bosom-buddy relationships some lobbyists for earmarks have with key appropriators. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that House Appropriations chairman Jerry Lewis has steered hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to clients of lobbyist Bill Lowery, a former congressman who is so close to Mr. Lewis that they have exchanged two key staff members, “making their offices so intermingled that they seem to be extensions of each other.”

Looming disaster, indeed.