Pelosi: Just Forget the Word ‘Earmark’

Posted: Jun 13, 2007 5:15 PM
Pelosi: Just Forget the Word ‘Earmark’

The more than 32,000 earmarks requested in the Homeland Security spending bill have roiled the House this week, and now Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) wants the word ‘earmark’ to just go away.

In a Tuesday press conference about appropriation bills, Pelosi said, “Why don’t we leave here today forgetting the word earmark?” She said they should be called “legislative directives” instead.

Five months ago, Pelosi’s House passed a resolution to require that these “legislative directives” be listed within the texts of applicable legislation next to the names of members who requested them, and therefore available to the public. It was a part of the Democrats’ bevy of midterm campaign promises that vowed to “drain the swamp” of the “culture of corruption” on Capitol Hill and create “the most ethical Congress in history.”

House Appropriations Chairman Rep. David Obey (D.-Wisc.)said his staff was unable to print the earmarks into this year’s round of spending bills, however, because there were too many and it would take up too much of his staff’s time. 

Subsequently, because the earmarks are not printed in the bill, members cannot challenge the earmarks before voting on the legislation.This prompted Republican Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), as he said Tuesday, to “declare war on our Democratic majority over these secret slush funds.”

Obey appeared at the Tuesday press conference with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to talk about the spending bills being considered in the House.

There, I asked him if he was opposed to letting members contesting earmarks on the House floor. 

He said “no” and that this would be the only year members would not be able to contest earmarks. He said his staff had been uncommonly burdened with the unfinished spending bills not passed by the previous Congress, the Iraq spending supplemental and investigations for “Republican shenanigans that occurred in the last Congress.”

“The fact is if we wanted to list those earmarks, it would take at least four weeks to get the job done, four weeks of staff work to put it together,” he said.

Obey denied implications that a larger staff would alleviate this problem.

“We don’t need more staff, we need more time,” Obey said.“We had unusual circumstances this time. For next year’s round I would fully expect to try to include them in the bill.”

It was at this point that Speaker Pelosi took back the podium and suggested that reporters forget the word “earmark.”

“This is legislative spending as opposed to executive spending,” she said. “And in the absence of legislative directives, you have appropriations bills that are totally dictated by the White House.”

She said “legislative directives” were a way for “members to come together, sometimes in a bipartisan way, to have the Congress of the United States determine what is in the appropriations instead of just leaving it up to the White House.”

Later, a senior Republican aide coyly said, “Maybe taxes can be re-termed ‘suggested government donations to avoid jail time’ or ‘mandated contributions for the common good.”

The White House threatened Wednesday to veto the $37.4 billion Homeland Security funding bill because it contains a six percent spending increase and a mandate to ensure that those who work on federal projects receive a “prevailing wage.” The six percent increase will cost taxpayers $2.1 billion more than the President requested.

House Republicans are working in full force to combat the extra spending. Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee Rep.  David Dreier (R.-Calif.) said Obey had become a “rallying point” for the GOP to unite against, speaking to reporters before meeting with the House Rules committee to negotiate how to proceed on these bills.

Drier also said he has been approached by Democrats who believe Obey has stepped too far. “I think we are going to see concern from Democrats who regret what David Obey has done,” he said.

To stall debate on the bill, Republicans have introduced more than 100 “funding-limitation amendments” designed to prohibit spending on questionable items. For example, Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.) has introduced 73 amendments to block money from funding from things like yoga classes and puppet shows, as well as one to eliminate$300 million in state grants.

In a document circulated amongst reporters Wednesday, Boehner dismissed Obey’s claims that his staff did not have enough time to review the earmarks: “We’ve had plenty of time to look at these earmarks even if the new majority is looking to place blame elsewhere for their shortcomings.  If my Democratic friends had spent less time trying to choke off funding for our troops in harm’s way, we could have gotten to these spending bills much sooner.  Either way, there is no excuse for trying to shove slush funds for secret earmarks down our throats.  Republicans won’t stand for it.”