Thursday, February 09, 2006

Jeff Flake on Earmarks

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has a very good op/ed in the NYTimes this morning on the politics of earmarking and the need for reform. If you can, read the whole thing, but here's a small section:

"In Congress these days, you establish your priorities by getting money for them. When the carefully designed process of authorization, appropriation and oversight is adhered to, these policies and priorities are given a thorough vetting. But earmarking circumvents that cycle: the Appropriations Committee ensures that earmarks escape scrutiny by inserting them into conference reports, largely written behind closed doors.

By the time appropriation bills reach the House or Senate floor, passage by a lopsided margin is virtually assured because every member who got earmarks is obligated to vote for the entire bill. Further, the scope of debate is substantially narrowed, with even partisan arguments that would otherwise occur hushed as Republicans and Democrats find common cause: protecting their pork. ...

Solving the earmark problem will require transparency — a requirement that earmarks be included in the actual text of legislation (where they can be seen and challenged) rather than hidden in committee and conference reports. I've introduced such legislation in the House and my Arizona Republican colleague John McCain has introduced companion legislation in the Senate. Debate on these measures should begin as soon as possible."

The Flake and McCain bills are a good start on the road to earmark reform. Let's keep talking about them, and continue to urge a debate on these measures. It'll be a very hard first step - many in Congress (I'm thinking of at least a couple members from Alaska right now in particular) will fight tooth and nail to protect earmarking privileges. Those of us on all sides of the aisle who want reform on this must join together now and make our voices heard, because (as I think I've said before) the lobbyists who desperately oppose these measures certainly won't be sitting back and watching them happen.

It's time to end the Earmark Era. Let's get it done.


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