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House Getting Creative With the Earmark Moratorium

February 6, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

House Republicans are starting to find ways around the earmark moratorium they voted for last year. The latest example, according to the New York Times, comes in the form of the 2012 Army Corps of Engineers budget. Instead of the $533 million worth of earmarks they included in 2010, the 2012 budget sets aside $507 in 26 slush funds, along withe a set of guidelines for making sure the money goes to Congress' favorite pet projects.

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Defense Bill Larded Up With Earmarks

May 23, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Republicans took over the House on promises to cut pork spending and eliminate earmarks. But according to Donna Casatta at the Associated Press, some of the Republican House freshmen whose elections were premised on these promises are now pushing additions to the Defense Authorization bill that are designed to direct federal funds to corporations and defense interests in their districts. "The additions look suspiciously like the pet projects that Republicans prohibited when they took over the House and that the new class of lawmakers, many with tea party backing, swore off in a promise to change Washington's spending habits," writes Casatta.

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The Alternate Engine That Just Won't Die

May 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For years, both parties in Congress insisted on funding the $500-million-per-year F-35 alternative engine program that nobody besides the defense contractors that benefit from it seem to want, not even the Pentagon. Then, earlier this year, against the wishes of Speaker Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8], a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and freshman Republicans won an amendment to the 2011 spending bill to cut funding for the program. But now that appropriators have begun working on spending bills for 2012, they're trying to secure funds for the program once again.

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Shutdown Averted?

February 25, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

It's looking like the government may not be shutting down after all, at least not on March 4. House Republicans today unveiled their bill to extend government funding for two weeks, and the response from Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid's office is considerably more positive than what we've been hearing lately. The bill would cut a little more than $4 billion from the current funding level over a two week period and it does not include any of the controversial language that the Republicans included in their full-year funding bill, like defunding Planned Parenthood or blocking the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

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On Monday I wrote about a provision in the Republicans' continuing resolution that would spend $450 million on a redundant DoD project that is and opposed by the Pentagon, but is included because, as it appears, it benefits defense contractors in House Speaker John Boehner's [R, OH-8] district. As long-time Appropriations Committee staffer Scott Lilly concluded, the provision "looks, feels, and smells very much like an earmark." Remember, the Republicans claim to have banned earmarking this session. Thanks to Rep. Tom Rooney [R, FL-16], the provision has been removed from the bill, saving $450 this year from a bloated military budget that rarely scrutinized by members of Congress from either party.

 

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Boehner Gets His Earmark

February 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Amid all the cuts in the Republicans' continuing resolution is a provision that would spend millions on a program that nobody besides the defense contractors who benefit from it seems to want. Why? As Sott Lilly at CAP reports, "The item is a down payment that would obligate the federal government to future payments that could well be three or four times the increased spending added to this particular piece of legislation, with a big portion of the funds flowing to two cities in Ohio—Cincinnati, where Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) grew up, and Dayton, the largest city in his congressional district." That "looks, feels, and smells very much like an earmark."

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When Congress recently agreed to stop earmarking, they of course were not agreeing to deny themselves the ability to load up bills with funding for their favorite pet projects. They were simply agreeing to end the formalized annual process of submitting requests to the appropriations subcommittees to be included in the annual appropriations bills or the accompanying committee reports. The plan now is to just put all their earmark-type stuff in other, non-appropriations bills, and do it without any of the disclosure requirements that came along with the old, formal process.

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From Earmarking to Lettermarking

December 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Disclosure in the earmarking process has never been state-of-the-art. Earmark requests and funds secured for projects are released to the public in clunky, non-machine processable PDF files that are often more than hundred pages long and are not sortable in any way, for example by sponsor, recipient, or amount. The disclosures are a far cry from being truly open government data.

But at least it's something. As Ron Nixon at the New York Times reports today, when there's not a formal earmarking process (e.g. the earmark-free government funding arrangement we're operating under right now), Congress' work to direct federal funds to their pet projects doesn't actually stop, it just becomes much more secretive.

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As things were coming together for Democrats on the tax bill in the House, the omnibus appropriations bill was falling apart in the Senate. Last night, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] announced on the Senate floor that nine Republicans who who had said they would support the bill had changed their minds and were now planning to vote against it. That left the Democrats with too few votes, and Reid with no choice but to pull the bill from the floor.

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Earmark Hypocrisy At Its Best

December 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Jamie Dupree has a great catch from a press conference held earlier today by Sen. John Thune [R, SD] and Sen. John Cornyn [R, TX] to bash the omnibus spending bill. Together, Thune and Cornyn have sponsored 71 earmarks worth several hundred million dollars in the omnibus, yet they're trying to play both sides of the coin -- requesting earmarks and then prominently announcing they will vote against the bill that contains them, even though they know it's likely to pass.

Reporters at the press conference didn't miss the irony here, and they drilled the senators on it pretty heavy. Read the painfully awkward transcript below:

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The Senate Omnibus Arrives

December 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

On top of the tax deal, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the DREAM Act and the nuclear arms treaty, Congress has to pass spending legislation by this weekend to keep the government funded and avoid furloughs of federal employees. The House passed legislation last week to simply continue the current funding levels through the rest of the fiscal year, but the Senate wants to do it in a way that looks something like the regular appropriations process. That means we're looking at thousands of earmarks, pet projects, and policy tweaks via budgeting.

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McConnell Backs Earmark Ban

November 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] has reversed course and will now back Sen. Jim DeMint's [R, SC] earmark moratorium for the 112th Congress. A vote on banning earmarks will be held privately in the GOP conference meeting scheduled for tomorrow, but if doesn't pass there, DeMint and his main ally, Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK], will force a vote on the moratorium on the Senate floor Wednesday as an amendment to the food safety bill. But is the moratorium really a good idea, or just a political stunt?

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Transparency Bill Would Create Earmark Website

June 25, 2010 - by Hilary Worden

In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama called on Congress to "to publish all earmark requests on a single Web site before there's a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent." A pair of bi-partisan bills (S.3335 in the Senate and H.R.5258 in the House) would do just that. Titled the Earmark Transparency Act of 2010, the bills would make information about earmarks easily accessible online.

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Why Transparency Beats the Earmarking Ban

March 11, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

In his State of the Union address, President Obama made a strong call for Congress to make earmarking more transparent. Instead, the House of Representatives has put in place new rules that bans most earmarking altogether. The new rules have lobbyists scrambling to figure out a work-around to make sure that their clients still get a piece of the money Congress appropriates, the New York Times reports:

Jolted by a sudden tightening of the rules, lobbyists and military contractors who have long relied on lucrative earmarks from Congress were scrambling Thursday to find new ways to keep the federal money flowing. […]

Some firms talked of partnering with hospitals, universities and other nonprofit organizations in seeking federal money, an idea that Congressional officials said might not be allowed under the new rules. Others said they planned to become more aggressive about applying directly to the Pentagon and other federal departments and agencies, and not Congress, for grant money.

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Democrats Announce Corporate Earmarking Ban

March 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The long-standing congressional tradition of directing federal money to corporations in your state or district, often in exchange for campaign contributions, may be coming to an end. Well, at least in appropriations bills.

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