The expectations were low for the Senate Fiscal Reform Working Group, so today’s proposal to bring greater transparency, debt reduction and oversight can’t be viewed as a total disappointment. It demonstrated that even some of the Republican Party’s biggest porkers acknowledge that the favor factory needs to be cleaned up. But as earmark warrior Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said today, it should be viewed as a first step, not a final solution.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a notorious appropriator, deserves praise for recognizing the problem with earmarks. The working group he appointed, led by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), outlined its recommendations as part of an attempt by the GOP to reclaim its brand on fiscal discipline. That in itself is progress.
While the report makes strides in some areas, it does little to actually reduce wasteful spending. For instance, it makes no promise to cut pork-barrel projects. “Transparency will promote accountability and help eliminate corruption, but does little to reduce the actual number of taxpayer dollars spent on mule and packers museums each year,” said Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth. “At a minimum, we would hope the report would embrace President Bush’s call to cut the number of earmarks in half on the journey to eliminating earmarks altogether.”
The proposal calls on the Senate Republican Conference to take three overarching steps:
• Savings from stricken earmarks may be applied to the national debt rather than simply being spent elsewhere.
• All earmarks in appropriations, authorization, and tax bills must be placed in the bill text. This gives greater opportunity to challenge and strike airdropped earmarks.
• Members should make available on their websites information on successfully inserted earmarks. Also, successful earmarks should be made public in a searchable format at least 48 hours before floor consideration on the relevant committee’s website.
• Senators must provide full justification for a requested earmark, and whether the requesting Member, Member’s family, staff, or staff’s family will benefit financially from the earmark.
• Congress insists the Executive Branch provide full justification and review for requested earmarks.
• Executive Branch earmarks should be subject to the same scrutiny and guidelines as other earmarks, and should be subject to amendment to strike.
Senate Republicans have taken a step in the right direction, but McConnell and his working group would be wise to follow the lead of their GOP counterparts in the House. As Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) demonstrated again this week, House Republicans are serious about instituting an immediate freeze on earmarks.