During the presidential campaign, earmark reform was a major theme for John McCain, who would point out the earmark’s requested by other candidates. During the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, 2008, Barack Obama made a brilliant political move when he co-opted John McCain’s Earmark Issue. He said he stopped requesting earmarks as a senator and that he shared McCain’s desire for earmark reform and the elimination of wasteful projects.
Obama replied, “John, nobody is denying that $18 billion is important. And, absolutely, we need earmark reform . And when I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.”
But like most of the President’s Promises this one comes with an expiration date, within his first few months a president, the President Obama signed a $780+ billion stimulus bill so loaded with earmarks and pork barrel spending that it was affectionately renamed porkulus. He quickly followed up by signing a $410 billion Omnibus bill for 2009 which had upwards of 9,000 earmarks included.
And that was just start. On both sides of the aisle members of Congress are complaining about the President ignoring his earmark pledge:
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said Obama made earmark reform “a very big part of [his] campaign” but still signed this month two massive spending measures that both included approximately $4 billion in earmarks.
Feingold, who broke with his party to oppose both the $447 billion 2010 omnibus spending bill and the $636 billion 2010 Pentagon spending bill, said the president could have used his veto pen to reject the measures and force lawmakers to cut earmark funding.
“We’ve got to have a fresh start next year, and I’ve signaled that if they want my vote, they’ve got to stop just signing onto huge numbers of earmarks,” Feingold said.
….Obama also called for cutting earmarks down to their levels in 1994, when they took up less than $8 billion of the federal discretionary budget….
“It’s important that we get this done to ensure that the budget process works better, that taxpayers are protected, and that we save billions of dollars that we so desperately need to right our economy and address our fiscal crisis,” Obama said in announcing his earmark reform plans in March.
Just wait to see what happens to earmarks if Obamacare gets passed, that’s a 2+ trillion dollar earmark opportunity.
So far, only his pledge to increase disclosure of earmarks has been fully honored by Congress.
Both senators and House members listed their earmark requests on their web sites this year. But even that decision was made without much of Obama’s input. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said in January they would require that earmark requests be posted online.
Even with the online postings, the requests aren’t easily accessed or sorted, and the earmarks actually awarded are still tucked into the text of legislation that usually isn’t released until hours before congressional markups on the bills. That makes it makes it difficult for the public to track earmarks and for lawmakers to hold hearings scrutinizing them, which Obama hoped would happen, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
“It’s almost impossible to have hearings on them because you don’t see the bill until they’re voting on it,” Ellis said.
When he outlined his earmark reforms in March, Obama said, “Each earmark must be open to scrutiny at public hearings, where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.”
Obama’s pledge to subject earmarks for private companies to the competitive bidding process has been adopted by the House but not the Senate. Congress also didn’t comply with Obama’s request for an “orderly” appropriations process, clearing the bulk of the appropriations measures in its final days before the Christmas break, long after the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2010.
Lawmakers who see the earmark process as a waste of taxpayer dollars and the root of potential corruption said Obama and Congress have not instituted real reforms.
The Obamacare debate brought attention to a different kind of earmark, also known as bribery.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said the White House and Democratic leaders use earmarks to “buy off” key votes to pass major legislation. DeMint and other earmark hawks have blasted deals by Senate leaders to give $300 million for disaster aid to Louisiana and $100 million in Medicaid funding to Nebraska in order to win the support of Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) on the landmark healthcare reform bill. Though those may not fit Congress’s technical definition of earmarks, critics said they accomplish the same sordid goal. “The overt vote-buying using earmarks is now out of control,” DeMint said.
Inouye’s spokesman, John Bray, noted that earmarks are now subject to “an unprecedented level of transparency.” Since Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, earmark requests have been posted online and earmark awards have been listed in the text of [most] spending bills made available to the public at the same time the legislation is considered in public appropriation subcommittee hearings.
Not that they get stopped, its just now we know about things such as John Murtha’s airport project that gets 3 flights per day, or the money going to Charlie Rangel’ Center for Public Service, Or Harry Reid’s Disney World to Las Vegas train, and Nancy Pelosi’s money to protect the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.