GOP's hands caught in the cookie jar
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Congress is so addicted to the corrosive influence of lobby money that
even a former member pulling a prison stretch and the promise of more
criminal convictions can't spur the leadership kick the habit.
An investigation into a widespread lobbying scandal will carry over
into the fall election, threatening GOP control of the House of
Representatives. As part of that probe, former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke"
Cunningham was sent to prison this year for accepting bribes to add
"earmarks" into federal spending bills.
Earmarks are pet projects inserted into congressional bills, sometimes
in the middle of the night before a vote. Earmarks can be added
anonymously and without other members being advised they are in a bill
that had been debated previously.
It is an insidious and corrupting practice, yet the congressional
leadership seemingly cannot help itself. House Speaker Dennis Hastert
and leaders of important committees continue to defend earmarks and
punish members who try to prevent them.
Alaska's infamous $200 million bridge to nowhere was earmarked into a
transportation bill. Other notorious examples are $1 million to study
emissions from henhouses, $300,000 for woodpecker research and $1
million for a swimming pool in California.
There is much more, of course. In all, nearly 14,000 earmarks found
their way into congressional bills last year, 6,000 in the
transportation bill alone. The cost of those additions to the budget
was a staggering $53 billion. That is leadership failure on an epic
scale, and if such malfeasance continues, voters should send a message
Not every earmark is a bad thing, and not every one is pure pork for a
representative's home district, though too many are. And remedies for
the problem abound, the main ones being to require the identity of
anyone inserting an earmark and a 72-hour waiting period before any
vote can be taken on an earmarked bill.
Why are congressional leaders resisting these sensible changes?
Because they're hooked on lobby money, and the lobbyists prefer their
pork come through the back door and in the dark of night.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat who represents part of Austin, has
added earmarks to bills, and he agrees with the 72-hour waiting
period. So do many other members. Yet the leadership, with some
Democratic allies, clings to the fiction that earmarks are not a problem.
Federal spending is out of control, with the annual budget drowning in
a sea of red ink, the cost of the war in Iraq escalating daily and a
national debt in the trillions of dollars. That might cost Republicans
their command of Congress in November.
Efforts at lobbying reform have no energy behind them either. Ethics
legislation being considered still allow House and Senate members to
take privately funded trips and let lobbyists or their clients
accompany members on trips.
Disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay built this symbiotic
relationship through his K Street Project, named for the street that
houses Washington's powerful lobby firms. Now the members are so
entangled with the lobby they seem helpless to do the right thing.
DeLay may have succeeded too well.
The Austin American Statesman