This January, in an attempt to appeal to the voters of both parties as they basked in the glow of their recent victory, the majority leadership team in the House of Representatives promised many reforms. Among other things, the American people were informed that the new Congress would enforce a one-year moratorium upon certain special projects that often go unnoticed when they are slipped into major legislation. These appropriations are a version of what used to be known as "pork" and a way for a House Member to "bring home the bacon" to his or her constituents. Now days these programs are called "earmarks." They are discretionary appropriations directed at a specific program or a specific group of people. Earmarks can be found almost everywhere in the federal budget and for almost any project that someone or some interest group wants the Federal Government to pay for. Earmark appropriations may range from several thousand to more than a billion dollars per item.
The new majority in Congress said it was different from the old majority and that multi-million dollar bridges to nowhere and money for frivolous projects would be a thing of the past. This is what they said and are on record saying on television and in newspapers all across the country barely two months ago yet their self-declared moratorium on earmarks seems to be falling apart already.
In December of 2006, before being sworn in officially, the House Leadership declared its intent to extend the federal budget for most agencies under a Continuing Resolution. A CR, as it is known, funds agencies at the same level as the previous year while a new budget is fought over. (The last time budgets were submitted and passed for the forthcoming year and on time by both Houses of Congress was in 1994.) The intent of the leadership was to remove any and all earmarks from the previous and the forthcoming 2008 budgets while making the budget process itself "more transparent."
Within two weeks House Members of both parties were discreetly calling in favors and attempting to get their pet projects re-included without being held accountable. By February behind-the-scenes bargaining grew so common that Office of Manage-ment and Budget (OMB) Director Rob Portman was forced to issue a memo to the heads of federal departments and agencies telling them to ignore any requests, telephone calls or suggestions they were being given and that nothing that wasn't written in the legislation known as HR 20 would be appropriated.