May 25, 2007

Earmarks? No No... Phonemarks!

Hatched by Dafydd

In a stunning piece -- stunning that it appeared in the Washington Post, I mean, not stunning in what it reports -- John Solomon and Jeff Birnbaum ("the Mustache" from Brit Hume's Special Report roundtable) confirm what we've been seeing for some time now: The Democrats have not only jettisoned any idea of "cleaning up" Washington and running the most ethical Congress in history... they have become positively ingenious in finding new ways to hide their culture of corruption from public view:

When the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed one of its first spending bills, funding the Energy Department for the rest of 2007, it proudly boasted that the legislation contained no money earmarked for lawmakers' pet projects and stressed that any prior congressional requests for such spending "shall have no legal effect."

Within days, however, lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) began directly contacting the Energy Department. They sought to secure money for their favorite causes outside of the congressional appropriations process -- a practice that lobbyists and appropriations insiders call "phonemarking."

(Hat tip to cybercolumnist Rich Galen of Mullings fame -- read and subscribe; he's a national treasure!)

That is, individual members of Congress would call appropriators at the Department of Energy and say, in their best Vito Corleone voice, "We know there's nothing in the bill requiring it, but we think it would be better for everyone, not to mention safer, if you hired this particular New Jersey contractor to develop a new nuclear reactor, rather than any of the other competitors."

Right after the election, incoming Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) famous pledged, in a November 14th op-ed published in the Christian Science Monitor, to clean up what she was pleased to call "the Republican culture of corruption;" and in particular, she threatened to eliminate all earmarks. (Or was that earwigs? I get them confused.)

We pledge to make this the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history.

But most non-readers of Big Lizards misunderstood her vow, not realizing that she actually meant to eliminate earmarks by changing them into "phonemarks" and driving them underground.

Readers of this blog were alerted to the many ways in which Democrats were trying to get around their promise to clean up congressional corruption -- now that they were in line to start receiving the lion's share of it. We published several posts on the subject:

Here is another example of the Democrats' peculiar talents: The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee wants to institutionalize the nasty bit of business whereby earmarks are banned in the original bills -- but inserted instead into the bill when it goes to the joint House-Senate conference committee:

Upon taking control of Congress after November's midterm elections, Democrats vowed to try to halve the number of earmarks, and to require lawmakers to disclose their requests and to certify that the money they are requesting will not benefit them.

But the new majority is already skirting its own reforms.

Perhaps the biggest retreat from that pledge came this week, when House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) told fellow lawmakers that he intends to keep requests for earmarks out of pending spending bills, at least for now. Obey said the committee will deal with them at the end of the appropriations process in the closed-door meetings between House and Senate negotiators known as conference committees.

Some of you may be getting bugeyed at all this "inside-outball," so here's a little explanation you will probably all remember from your Civics classes in public school, Capitol Conjugations 101. How a bill becomes a law:

  1. The bill is first introduced in one of the two chambers of Congress, the House or the Senate; let's say the former, in this instance.
  2. The House bill is debated, amended, and fails miserably.
  3. After a hundred iterations of 1 and 2, a completely different version of the bill passes the House.
  4. The bill is finally sent to the Senate (with some bills, debate and voting occurs simultaneously in both chambers).
  5. The Senate version of the bill is debated, amended, filibustered; and finally, the umpteenth time, it passes.
  6. At this point we have two versions of the same bill: the House version and the Senate version. Needless to say, since they evolved independently, they differ dramatically. But the Constitution says the same bill must pass both bodies before it can be sent to the president for his signature.

    What to do, what to do?

  7. The House and Senate form what is called a conference committee. Both chambers pick conferees to attend this committee, whose hearings are completely closed-door to other members. In conference, they mash the two bills together to make a single version, which each set of conferees introduces into the respective chamber.
  8. Here is the critical point: Conference committee reports are cannot be amended. They must either be passed as is -- or else rejected entirely. (They cannot be amended because then the two bills would once again differ, and the whole process would have to start all over again!)

Thus, what Rep. David Obey (D-WI, 90%) wants to do is hold off on all earmarks until the conference committee; then insert them, knowing that they cannot be amended out of the final bill. If the bill is critical, such as the emergency troop funding billl just passed, then nobody is going to reject the entire bill just beause of a paltry few billion in earmarks.

In other words, we'll have the same number of earmarks, but they'll be slipped in during the conference committee so that none of the other members of Congress can either debate them or strip them out... or even find out who inserted them in the first place. (Or more likely, more earmarks... 2006 saw 13,000 earmarks; there currently are 30,000 pending earmark requests.)

The Republicans used to do that too, though not to the same extent. Way, way back in the 109th Congress (last year), Democrats railed against earmarks in the conference committee as another example of the Republican culture of corruption:

Democrats had complained bitterly in recent years that Republicans routinely slipped multimillion-dollar pet projects into spending bills at the end of the legislative process, preventing any chance for serious public scrutiny. Now Democrats are poised to do the same.

"I don't give a damn if people criticize me or not," Obey said.

Of course not: Democrats are now the majority!

So between garden-variety earmarks slithering into the legislative process during the secret confrence committees and "phonemarks" -- telephone calls to Defense, Energy, and other administration appropriators "suggesting" that certain companies and contractors be used -- I'd say the Democrats are, indeed, all ears. And many of these earmarks personally benefit the bottom line of individual members... such as Nancy Pelosi herself:

Another key Democratic reform requires House members seeking earmarks to certify that neither they nor their spouses have any financial interest in the project.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did just that when she requested $25 million for a project to improve the waterfront in her home district of San Francisco. Her request did not note that her family owns interests in four buildings near the proposed Pier 35 project.

Well, the rich get richer, even if -- especially if -- the rich are Democrats. But at least now we know what "the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history" looks like!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 25, 2007, at the time of 8:41 PM

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» They're All Ears... Again from Big Lizards
With great fanfare, the House nearly unanimously passed the Democrats' "ethics" bill... and just as Big Lizards predicted, there is virtually nothing in it to forbid or even slow down the enacting of congressional "earmarks": The bill, which was drafte... [Read More]

Tracked on August 1, 2007 5:07 PM

» The Power of the Big Idea: O'Billery Reduced to "Me Too!" from Big Lizards
Previous posts in our series about Congress, the Democrats, the Republicans, and earmarks: The Missing Earpiece Has Nancy Pelosi Changed Her Mind About Ears? The Democrats Are All Ears Earmarks? No No... Phonemarks! They're All Ears... Again If Barack ... [Read More]

Tracked on March 10, 2008 7:39 PM

» Traders to the Cause - Republicans Are All Ears from Big Lizards
In 2006, incoming Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%) infamously promised that the Democrats would run "the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history." When President Barack H. Obama ran for president two years... [Read More]

Tracked on March 12, 2010 3:22 PM

» So Comfortable in Corruption, They Needn't Even Dissemble from Big Lizards
The brazenness of Democrats is sometimes breathtaking: Defense contractors who openly discussed a suspected pay-to-play scheme in e-mails released by congressional ethics investigators had ties to a powerful lobbying firm and won millions of dollars in... [Read More]

Tracked on June 22, 2010 3:10 PM


The following hissed in response by: GM

Why would you expect anything else? The most thoroughly corrupt political machines throughout U. S. history have been those run by the Democratic Party.

The above hissed in response by: GM [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 26, 2007 11:03 AM

The following hissed in response by: Pyrran

This goes back to my earlier comment about the Amnesty (sorry, immigration) bill. No one is going to believe a word of anything that comes out of that building in Washington DC. Here is just another example of why citizens do not trust their government. And its not just the Democrats, it is all of them. All that is missing from this Roman orgy is poisoning your opponents (a la Putin). Give it time, we'll get there.

The above hissed in response by: Pyrran [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2007 12:13 PM

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