Monday, February 18, 2008

Pork spending under Democrats is out of control

This is a guest column from Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. All the talk about reforming Washington by the 2006 Democratic Congressional candidates turned out to be empty promises. The Nancy Pelosi-led House and the Harry Reid-led Senate are just as corrupt as the Republicans. (Read more about pork spending at

Earmark Reform Waiting for Democratic Support

By Congressman Joe Pitts

"We have a problem in Congress. Congressional spending through earmarks is out of control. I think our best approach would be to suspend all earmarks for the 2009 appropriations cycle while we consider the right reforms for the earmark process. As a result I will not submit any requests to the Appropriation Committee for this fiscal year."

These words could easily be attributed to any one of the many Republican members of Congress who have grown increasingly loud in their efforts to reform the broken Congressional earmark process. Surprisingly, it comes from Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Chairman Waxman could hardly be called a friend to Republicans, even by the standards of comity used on the House floor.

The admission by a Democratic Committee Chairman that the Congressional earmark process is broken shows just how bad the situation is. True, it was under Republican control that earmarks first ballooned exponentially. That is one reason I voted against many of my own party’s appropriations bills during my time in Congress.

One reason Republicans lost Congress was that voters were sick of our spending habits. We have learned our lesson. Starting in late 2006, Republicans instituted earmark disclosure rules that applied to all earmarks in all types of bills. In 2007, under Democratic control of the House, earmark disclosure rules were fully applied only to appropriations bills.

Even those rules were adopted only after House Republicans exposed a plan by Democratic appropriators to create a slush fund for earmarks that would never come up for a vote on the House floor.

At the end of January, House Republicans agreed upon and sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi calling for a bipartisan halting of the earmark process.

We wrote: "The earmark process in Congress has become a symbol of a broken Washington. Wasteful pork-barrel spending has outraged American families and eroded public confidence in our institution. Both of our parties bear responsibility for this failure…We write tonight to notify you that House Republicans believe that the earmark system should be brought to an immediate halt, and a bipartisan select committee should immediately be established for the purpose of identifying ways to bring fundamental change to the way in which Washington spends taxpayers’ money."

The letter was presented to Speaker Pelosi on January 25, and a reply was requested by the end of the Democrats retreat, a week later. The week came and went, with nothing but silence from Speaker Pelosi.

I and many Republicans in the House have gone even further and decided to stop requesting earmarks. I will not be requesting earmarks this year.

Three Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee have authored legislation that would bring the earmark process to a halt and establish a panel to identify ways to permanently change the spending process.

The Kingston-Wolf-Wamp bill has been cosponsored by 158 House Republicans, including me. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who as leader of the Democrat-controlled House has the power to shut down the chamber’s earmarking process immediately, has declined to support the measure just as she declined to support the proposed moratorium.

Editorial pages around the country have begun to take the Democrats to task for their inaction. The San Francisco Chronicle, Speaker Pelosi's hometown newspaper, wrote, "Democrats are on the wrong side of an issue they once so passionately championed."

In July 2006, Pelosi said to the Wall Street Journal, "Personally, myself, I'd get rid of all of them. None of them is worth the skepticism, the cynicism the public has ... and the fiscal irresponsibility of it." Yet she remains silent now, even as her own Committee Chairmen begin to agree with the need for reform.

The public deserves to know that their hard earned tax dollars are appropriated in an open, transparent, and honest manner. House Republicans will continue to use procedural measures to force the Democrats to vote on these reforms because this issue is fundamentally important to the public's trust in Congress.

Rep. Joe Pitts is a Republican who has represented Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District since 1997.

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