How's That Pelosi Doin'?

Rich Galen

6/14/2007 1:25:49 PM - Rich Galen

Remember the other day when, to demonstrate how long five months can be in politics, I suggested that five months ago Nancy Pelosi had been speaker of the House for less than two weeks?

Pelosi got off to a rough start even before she started when she backed former mentor Jack Murtha (D-Pa) to be Caucus Chairman.

Murtha got hammered by Maryland's Steny Hoyer and Pelosi got her first lesson in being the head of an organization made up of 435 Type-A, self-absorbed, independently elected, intellectually-gifted Members of Congress.

That might have been the high point of her Speakership to date.

While Democrats nationally were swooning over taking control of the House and Senate, things have gone from bad to worse.

A poll taken on behalf of the LA Times and Bloomberg News Service asked how Nancy Pelosi's Congress is doing its job. Approve: 27%. Disapprove: 65%.

The clue to this was in the next question: "Do you think Democrats are working hard to bring fundamental change" to the way Congress works or is it "business as usual?" The answer was 29% thought the Dems were trying to bring change, but 63% thought it is business as usual.

The principal business of Congress usually involves spending our money - whether it is run by Republicans or Democrats. The spending process was supposed to be - in the current vernacular - transparent, which is to say, we are supposed to know what kinds of things they are spending our money on.

There are some things, of course, we are not allowed to know about: How much they are spending on intelligence matters. How much on double secret military units. How much on the Congressional Visitors' Center. And like that.

But for the most part there are things and services which the government buys with our money and we're supposed to be allowed to see what they are.

There is this thing known as an "earmark." According to testimony in the US Senate last year an earmark is defined as "the practice of including legislative provisions that specific certain projects or entities to receive federal funding."

Otherwise known as "pork."

The Library of Congress estimates that in appropriations bills for fiscal year 1994 there were about 4,126 earmarks. Ten years later that number had grown to 15,877.

But that was when the GOP controlled the Congress. Fiscal responsibility. Less government is better. Remember all that?

Yeah, well elections have consequences. The other day the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, David Obey (D-Wis) announced that there were now some 30,000 earmarks piling up in the back rooms of the Capitol which would be smoke-filled if smoking in them were still allowed.

Last year, in a desperate effort to convince voters they were cleaning up their act, the GOP-controlled House rewrote the rules to, according to the AP, "require that earmark requests and their sponsors be publicized during a bill's drafting and debate."

You want a couple of million for a water slide in your district? No prob. You just have to defend it in public.

The Democrats - elected because they promised to clean up the system - have struck that rule and decided that earmarks and earmarkers would not be make public during debate where they might be struck by a vote of other Members of the House, or the earmarker might just decide that the water slide isn't worth the public ridicule which would accompany the debate.

So, they have decided to go to the good old days when folks like Rep. Randy  "Duke" Cunningham (R-Cellblock E) were riding high. Earmarks now will be dropped in during the conferences between House and Senate Appropriators.

Why is this important? Because (a) Conferences are very often closed to the press and (b) the output of the Conference - a Conference Report - is not amendable on the floor of either the House or the Senate.

So, what will happen is the water ride will be slid into the appropriations bill literally in the dead of night and will simply show up on the doorstep of the Interior Department for implementation and no one will ever know.

That's why the Democratic-led Congress is held in such low regard by American voters.

Nice going, Nancy.