Lack of FY 2007 earmarks causes turmoil

December 14, 2006 at 11:40 am

Now that the “favor factory” has been shut down for fiscal year 2007, there is a lot of confusion here in DC.

Roll Call reports:

The announcement this week that the new Democratic Congress will eliminate all 2007 spending earmarks and instead pass a stopgap measure to keep the government funded for the entirety of this fiscal year has caused widespread confusion and anxiety, both within the Bush administration and on K Street, as lobbyists scramble to figure out how their clients will be affected.

“We don’t know what that means,” said Sean Kevelighan, spokesman for Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman. He added, “There’s no real clarity above and beyond the statement that was released.”

Conservatives succeed in shutting down “favor factory”

December 12, 2006 at 8:16 am

Democrats and some appropriators in Congress are still reeling from last week’s conservative victory with regards to earmark spending. According to Congress Daily PM, they have thrown in the towell on the earmarks/pork projects game for now by agreeing to pass a year-long continuing resolution:

Democrats announced this afternoon they plan to enact a continuing resolution for the duration of FY07, after Republicans gave up on passing individually the nine appropriations bills covering the domestic portion of the federal budget. In its final hours Friday, Congress passed a stopgap measure running through Feb. 15, and the incoming chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees said they would simply extend the measure out rather than attempting to pass the leftover FY07 spending bills. President Bush is expected to submit his FY08 budget and a new supplemental spending request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in early February. “It is important that we clear the decks quickly so that we can get to work on the American people’s priorities, the president’s anticipated war funding request, and a new budget,” incoming House Appropriations Chairman Obey and Senate Appropriations Chairman Byrd said in a joint statement. “After discussions with our colleagues, we have decided to dispose of the Republican budget leftovers by passing a year-long joint resolution … we must turn the page on the Republican failures and work together in the best interests of the American people.”

Obey and Byrd said they would make “limited adjustments” in that GOP-written CR to address important policy priorities, but that the extended version would have none of the earmarks contained in the remaining FY07 spending bills. The Democrats said they were placing a “moratorium” on all earmarks until reforms are put in place. “We will work to restore an accountable, above-board, transparent process for funding decisions and put an end to the abuses that have harmed the credibility of Congress,” they said. Only two FY07 spending bills have been signed into law, the Defense and Homeland Security measures. That leaves about $463 billion in unfinished agency budgets that will be funded under a yearlong CR. Obey and Byrd noted the last time all the spending bills were completed separately and on time was 1994 — the last year of Democratic control of Congress.

And here is more from the Washington Post:

The announcement appears to be a victory for conservative budget reformers, such as Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Tom Price (R-Ga.), who circulated a petition last week calling for a resolution that would extend funding through the rest of the year, but without earmarks. That petition, however, called for all domestic programs to be funded at the lowest levels called for in either the House or Senate versions.

In contrast, Obey and Byrd indicated that they would seek adjustments in spending levels to satisfy Democrats and moderate Republicans who were upset by the austere funding bills passed by the House Appropriations Committee. In particular, the measure to fund labor, health and education programs fell billions of dollars short of the Senate-approved levels, and the levels that even many House Republicans said were acceptable.

The biggest victory would be for those lawmakers who have crusaded against earmarks, or home-district pet projects. Virtually all of the bills that pass the Senate and House appropriations committees contain such projects. For the fiscal year that began in October and will end Sept. 30, the slate will be wiped clean.

UPDATE: This story is from yesterday’s edition of Roll Call:

As arguably the Senate’s new leading conservative, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is hoping to position his party’s right wing as a potential swing bloc in the chamber — even reaching out to incoming Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

After hearing that Reid is considering curbing earmarks as well as thinking about keeping spending levels flat for the rest of fiscal 2007, DeMint — who was just elected chairman of the conservative Senate Republican Steering Committee — called Reid last Thursday to offer his help.

“I just called him up to tell him that I’ve got a bunch of guys over here who will vote for” keeping spending levels flat by passing a continuing resolution until the beginning of fiscal 2008. Additionally, he said, “If they did something on earmark reform and transparency in spending, they might be in the majority for a long time. It’s something I couldn’t get my own guys to do.”

…DeMint said he was ready to help Reid finalize those decisions, saying, “I just let him know that I don’t care who gets the credit. If we get the right thing done and it makes them look good, I’m fine with it.”

In an odd twist, then, a man known more for fiercely defending conservative ideals is saying he’d rather work with the new Democratic majority than against them. Still, true to form, DeMint warned that Democrats must consult with conservatives before measures come to the floor if they want optimum cooperation, especially on appropriations bills.

“We’re not trying to clog them up, but if they want to continue earmarks, we will clog them,” he said, referring to the conservatives’ chief complaint about the Congressional appropriations process — targeted spending provisions, or earmarks, that have not been vetted by committee.

Earmark reform in Dem hands

December 11, 2006 at 10:40 am

Congressional conservatives fought hard at the end of the 109th Congress to ensure that Congress did not leave town with thousands of pork projects in their back pockets. But now, as the nation waits for the gavelling in of the 110th Democrat-led Congress, the reality is that this issue is now up to the Dems.

Robert Novak reports:

The issue of spending reform is now in Democratic hands. Emanuel, the newly elected House Democratic Caucus chairman, on Nov. 17 e-mailed colleagues with a call for reform. The takeover of the House that he led as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Emanuel said, sent a message that “it’s time for a change, and change starts by cleaning up Washington.” But in reiterating the Democratic campaign’s promises to “reform lobbying and ethics rules,” Emanuel did not mention the corrupting influence of earmarks.

$17 billion saved

November 28, 2006 at 10:55 am

If Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn succeed in their quest to stop the lame duck Congress from passing any earmarks, they will have saved taxpayers $17 billion dollars. Not bad…not bad at all. This from today’s Wall Street Journal Editorial page:

The agriculture bill, for example, includes a new $4.9 billion “emergency” handout for farmers, courtesy of North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad. Millions more would have been directed to Alaskan salmon research, Montana sheep, New York geese and animal-waste management in Kentucky. The 10 remaining Senate spending bills (and nine in the House) are estimated to contain some 12,000 earmarks. If GOP leaders couldn’t pass these bills individually, the scheme was to wrap them all into one giant “omnibus” bill whose innards no one would ever be able to inspect.

Enter the two rebel Senators, who rallied enough of their mates to block any omnibus bill containing earmarks. The result is that the GOP Senate may return next week for its final lame duck days and instead pass a “continuing resolution” that would fund the government at 2006 levels, kicking 2007 decisions over to the Democratic majority in January. By Mr. Coburn’s estimate, taxpayers would save about $17 billion if Congress takes this approach.

That prospect has the usual spenders howling that the world will soon end if they don’t get their fix. The Social Security Administration is warning that it would have to furlough “every employee”; we’ll believe that when we see it. Meanwhile, a source from Housing and Urban Development claimed that “thousands” of poor people “would end up out on the street.” Please.

DeMint off to good start as Steering Chairman

November 27, 2006 at 11:13 am

When Senator Jim DeMint was announced as the replacement for outgoing Senate Steering Committee Chairman Jeff Sessions some conservatives wondered if he would be able to live up to Sessions’ performance. While at the Senate Steering Committee — a body of Senate conservatives tasked with keeping the GOP caucus from drifting too far to the middle — Sessions won praise from conservatives for being a strong advocate of conservative principles and for being willing to stick his neck out on issues that many Republicans disagreed with him on.

Now, it looks as if Senator Jim DeMint will be doing just the same. As noted last week, DeMint teamed up with Tom Coburn to put the brakes on a raft of porked up appropriations bills despite receiving the predictable criticism from big-spending GOP colleagues on the Appropriations Committee. The Wall Street Journal today has more on that effort:

It’s been years since federal agencies have screamed this loudly about fiscal discipline being imposed on them. GOP Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina have decided to take a stand against overspending by objecting to the nearly 10,000 earmarks, or member-sponsored pork projects, larded throughout the spending bills Congress is currently considering.Their obstinacy has convinced the leadership of the departing Republican Congress that they probably won’t be able to pass spending bills in next month’s short lame-duck session. Instead, they are likely to pass a stopgap “continuing resolution,” which will continue funding all programs at last year’s level until the new Democratic Congress passes its own versions of the funding bills.

Mr. Coburn says the decision not to pass earmark-stuffed catchall spending bills could save taxpayers a cool $17 billion. All 10,000 earmarks in the pending bills will expire if they aren’t passed by the end of the year. Mr. Coburn says the decision of the congressional leadership to instead go for a continuing resolution is a sign Republicans are learning some lessons from their stinging loss of Congress three weeks ago. “By either staying home or not voting Republican, many voters were sending a message that they don’t want to give the spending favor factory that Congress had become their stamp of approval,” Mr. Coburn says. “It’s time that message was heeded.”

Nonetheless, the cries of pain are mounting now that it looks as if many federal agencies will have to get by until late January or even later with the same amount of money they got last year. Of the 11 spending bills covering the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, only those governing defense and homeland security have become law. Appropriators are beside themselves that a continuing resolution that restrains spending is on the table. Rep. Jerry Lewis, who is ending his stint as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, calls it a “catastrophe.” A spokeswoman for Mr. Lewis’s Senate counterpart, Thad Cochran, says it is “irresponsible.”

It’s not easy to go up against entrenched powerful appropriators, especially when you know you are going to get attacked with every type of distorted argument your pork- addicted opponents (who are many) can come up with.

Judging by these actions, it looks as if the Steering Committee will again be led by a strong fiscal conservative who is willing to buck the status quo.

DeMint, Coburn pull Senate plug on pork spending

November 21, 2006 at 4:58 pm

Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn deserve praise from conservatives for doggedly insisting that this Republican Congress not pass porked up spending bills in the remaining weeks before Dems take control.

Andy Roth has the details.

Small band of Senators put brakes on pork spending

November 20, 2006 at 9:32 am

Robert Novak reports on a group of budget hawks who are shutting down the Senate favor factory:

While House Republicans reacted to stinging rejection from America’s voters by refusing to change leadership, their Senate counterparts have tried to use their closing weeks in power to enact a last burst of pork-barrel spending. But that effort was stalled last week by independent-minded Republican senators, spearheaded by two abrasive freshmen and one longtime hairshirt. Before Congress recessed Friday for Thanksgiving, the GOP leadership appeared to capitulate.

The freshmen, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, campaigning in 2004 in Oklahoma and South Carolina, promised not to fall in line with GOP leaders. Fulfilling that pledge allied them with the long-termer John McCain. They have been backed by Jeff Sessions of Alabama and another freshman, John Sununu of New Hampshire. In the lame-duck session’s first week, they played Horatio at the Bridge by combining to block a pork-filled omnibus spending bill.

Good for them. This group if they stick together will be able to do a lot of damage to the dreams on many an appropriator. It also should be pointed out that this group is largely the same as the group of seven senators who combined to form the “fiscal watch team” last year. The FWT joined forces in 2005 to echo the House Republican Study Committee’s calls for offsets for emergency Katrina funding.

Will Dems walk the walk?

November 16, 2006 at 10:10 am

Democrats talked a big game last year on earmark reform. But will they back up their overblown rhetoric with real actions? Americans for Prosperity ask the question in the video below.