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New converts

Will Democrats' deeds match their words on earmarks?

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

When one is "converted," people look for changes in behavior that testify to a transformation of heart and mind.

The new House Democratic majority has announced its "conversion" on matters of institutional and individual ethics. Now comes the watching and waiting to measure the depth of their sincerity.

House Democrats touted their ethics reform package, which, among other things, requires lawmakers to attach their names to the "earmarks," also known as "pork," they slip into spending and tax measures. In addition, members would be required to reveal if they have any personal interest in the measure.

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The New York Times reported that the earmark measure "could prevent the kind of corruption that led to several big scandals in recent years, including former Representative Randy Cunningham's sale of earmarks to government contractors for cash, gifts and campaign contributions." Not exactly.

According to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), which has published a "Guide to Earmark Reform," "Projects such as digitization of Department of Defense manuals, which helped land former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in jail, would not require sponsor identification because the funds were directed to DOD, not a specific company. In that situation, the company that eventually received funding for the project had bribed Cunningham.'

CAGW says the House definition of an earmark falls short in two ways. In addition to the one regarding the Pentagon and Randy Cunningham, "it omits projects earmarked for more than one state and those designated for federal agencies. For example, the fiscal 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill includes $6,435,000 for wood utilization research in Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia. The House rules would not require the identification of a sponsor of this earmark.'

Republicans will have little credibility advocating that these or tougher rules be placed in cement. They have been at the spending trough as much as Democrats. Neither will President Bush have much influence calling, as he has, for spending reforms, since he has refused to veto a single spending measure.

Any real reform will be up to "we the people."

© 2007 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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