Cover Story

Pigging out

"Pigging out" Continued...

Issue: "Our pork," Dec. 8, 2007

The House member flexing the most muscle is Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and oversees earmarks for the committee's bills. This year Murtha sponsored some $166 million in earmarks for his home district in the massive defense bill, more than any other legislator.

When two Republican lawmakers questioned Murtha's earmarks, the congressman threatened to withhold earmarks from them. "You're not going to get any, now or forever," he told Rep. Mike Rogers from Michigan. Murtha later apologized, but Ellis says such outbursts reveal the potential for corruption in the earmark process.

The potential for corruption in earmarks is well known, and Congress partially addressed some of the problems by passing earmark reform earlier this year. Legislators are now required to submit their names along with project details and disclosure letters about their spending requests, something not required in the past.

Ellis says this is an improvement, but problems remain. For example, when appropriations committees reported earmarks this year, they separated the list of project sponsors from the data with dollar amounts, making it difficult to quickly discern or question individual earmarks.

The eight staff members at Taxpayers for Common Sense spent weeks matching 1,804 disclosure letters to the 1,339 earmarks in the defense bill alone.

When a reporter complained to Murtha about the continuing difficulty of gaining information about earmarks, the congressman-who vigorously opposed earmark reform-replied: "So, you have to work. Tough sh-."

Ellis says Murtha's comments show contempt for taxpayers, and a desire to continue to obscure the process. "At the end of the day, we shouldn't have to do all this digging," he says. "Congress should be telling taxpayers how they are spending their money."

Sen. Coburn agrees. He says earmark reform was a good idea but adds: "We've washed the outside of the cup, but not the inside."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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