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The 2007 Budget Plan Could Lead To Responsible Spending From Both Parties

December 27, 2006 - by Donny Shaw

Earmark reform has been a major issue in the Democratic take over of Congress. Earmarks are inserted into bills by lawmakers to secure money for their own pet projects. They don’t go through the normal process of approval. They slide by along side other, bigger issues that are being voted on. The 109th Congress has been criticized over and over as an example of their financial irresponsibility, and the Democrats are planning a major overhaul of the earmarking system before they begin their own budgeting process.

This report from the Harvard Law School shows the extent to which earmarking has grown in the 109th Congress. The data is from the Congressional Research Service and Citizens Against Government Waste:

1994 to 2005, the number of earmarks rose 285% in the CRS data from 4,126 to 15,877.
The number of pork projects in the CAGW data rose even more, by 962%, from 1,318 to

This major increase in earmarking has been shown as an example of why the 109th Congress has made record deficits out of their initial record budget surplus.

While deciding on exactly how radical their earmark reform will be, the new chairmen of the Appropriations committees, Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), and Dave Obey (D-Wisc.) are planning to eliminate earmarks altogether for the time being. Their plan for dealing with the unfinished 2007 budget that was left to them by the 109th Congress is to extend last year’s budget for this year as well, except without all the earmarks that were put in it. The plan is being criticized for the impact it will have on programs that rely on funding from earmarks, but the Democrats are saying they have been given no other option.

It’s important to realize that earmarking is not exclusive to either party. Both parties have been guilty of earmarking in the 109th Congress. Earmark reform is an issue that will affect both parties, and the Byrd-Obey plan actually leaves a loophole that could potentially mean a major first step in a bipartisan move towards financial responsibility.

The plan will actually allow some programs that have been receiving money from earmarks to continue receiving money so they can remain open. There are some programs, like veterans’ medical care, that could be politically disastrous if eliminated. The new Democrats’ plan leaves the decision on what to continue funding up to officials in the Bush administration. It’s an odd plan, but a potentially strategic and effective one.

There are a few things that could happen. Republicans in the Bush administration could take the cue and spend wisely and conservatively. They could not spend at all, in an attempt to make the Democrats look bad for closing programs all around the country. Or they could feel the upper-hand one last time and fund only their own programs, effectively snuffing all the Democrats’ favored programs. They are going to have to keep in mind that, this time around, they will be answering to the Democrats when funds are being dished out in the 2008 budget process and they could be in for serious retribution.

We will be watching what they do closely. The best scenario could end up being really great. Republicans spend wisely and look good, Democrats look good for enforcing the change and making it possible, and the country gets what it wants: responsible, trustworthy politicians. No matter which way people vote, everybody wants the politicians they elected to represent the interests of the people with their tax money and not the interests of politics.

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