As noted yesterday, the House of Representatives this week is set to consider two measures that will drastically improve government transparency when it comes to federal spending. The less controversial measure is the Senate-passed Coburn/Obama transparency in government bill. This bill would create a “google for government” database in which bloggers, outside groups and concerned citizens could derive information pertaining to federal grants, contracts etc.
The more controversial measure is a proposed House rules change that would change the current culture of earmarking in Congress. Under the proposed change, all committee reports for appropriations bills, authorization bills or tax bills will be required to contain a list of all the earmarks in the legislation along with the names of the member who requested the earmark. Also, conference reports will be required to contain the same list with additions from the conference. Members who find a particular earmark inappropriate or egregious will have the freedom to highlight that project.
The House Rules Committee is holding a committee markup on the rule change tomorrow and a vote has been scheduled for Thursday. The vote will be close.
Appropriators (of course) have problems with the legislation. As many as 15 appropriators could oppose the measure as it is currently written. There is hope of winning some Democratic votes though. The place to look for Democrat votes will be amongst the 35 moderates — a remnant of the blue dogs — who voted for line item veto powers for the President. But these votes will not come easy.
Democratic Leadership will be
rediscent reluctant to allow GOP leadership a “win” on an issue that is an intra-party problem (appropriators vs. rest of party) — especially because the issue is crucial to the fiscal conservative base who is considering what kind of mood to be in come November. As such, there may be significant pressure from Democratic leadership to scuttle GOP attempts to make this new rule.
At this late hour one such attempt has materialized. Congressional Quarterly reports that DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel is distributing a “dear colleague” this afternoon announcing his intention to amend the earmark reform rule with tougher language that would “specify that no House member, spouse, or immediate family member could personally benefit from the awarding of an earmark.” Sounds great…and it is…but Emanuel, who is tasked with retaking the House for the Democrats this fall is fully aware that any changes at this late hour to the already precarious deal will result in the bottom falling out on the rule change. As such, Emanuel’s change is unlikely to be included in the Rules committee markup and will therefore not be considered — providing Democratic leadership with the perfect “out” for not supporting the bill while simultaneously claiming the “reform” mantle as their own.
While I like Emanuel’s proposal, I have trouble trusting his genuinness.
Conservatives in the blogosphere who championed the Coburn/Obama bill should champion this rules change because in many significant ways it mirrors the intentions of Coburn/Obama. Just as Coburn/Obama allows watchdogs to put the name of a federal grantee next to a grant, this rules change allows watchdogs to put the name of the member next to the project. This is another great step towards shining even more sunlight on the government spending process.
As a friend explained to me today, “Republicans all agree that there is a problem, but not everyone agrees on the exact solution. This rules change allows us to open up the hood of the car and figure out what is wrong with the engine. If we never even open up the hood of the car, then it will continue to backfire on us.”
It’s time to open up the hood of the car. I suspect more than a few bloggers will have some ideas about what is wrong with the engine and how to fix it.