US Congress to limit pet spending projects

NEW YORK; Congressional leaders have launched a fresh bid to crack down on lawmakers’ special spending deals known as “earmarks” in an effort to show new budget discipline ahead of upcoming mid-term elections.

The use of earmarks, a practice in which lawmakers can direct funds in a bill to specific projects in their home states, have long been decried by budget watchdogs and by President Barack Obama as wasteful, but little has been done to stem the practice.

The watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense identified 9,499 earmarks — which are often slipped into various bills by individual lawmakers with no debate — amounted to $15.9 billion in the current fiscal 2010 budget. Although this is a drop in the bucket in a federal budget of $3.5 trillion, the move to curb the so-called “pork barrel” spending has been gaining momentum, with the public viewing the practice as unsavory if not corrupt.

Some of the earmarks seen as wasteful have included $165,000 for

maple syrup research in Vermont, $150,000 for a Polynesian travel agency in Hawaii and $500,000 for the National Wild Turkey Federation in Nebraska.

House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey announced in the past week that the panel “will not approve requests for earmarks that are directed to for-profit entities,” aiming to avert a public outcry over cozy relationships between lawmakers and corporate contributors.

Obey said that if this rule had been in effect last year, it would have resulted in 1,000 fewer earmarks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed this move as “good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.” Republicans, the minority party trying to make new gains in November mid-term elections, are also taking aim at earmarks. “For millions of Americans, the earmark process in Congress has become a symbol of a broken Washington,” House Republican leader John Boehner said after his party in the House of Representatives adopted a unilateral moratorium on all earmarks.

Boehner said the action was “an important step toward showing the American people we’re serious about reform.” But he added that “the more difficult battle lies ahead, and that’s stopping the spending spree in Washington that is saddling our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars in debt.” In the Senate, Republican John McCain renewed his call from his failed 2008 presidential bid to clamp down on special project spending for lawmakers. “We must act now to ensure that the erosion we see today in the public’s confidence in Congress does not become a complete collapse of faith in our institutions,” he said. “We can and we must end the practice of earmarking.”

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye said he wanted more transparency — but not an end to all

earmarks.Inouye said his panel had already taken steps “to ensure unprecedented levels of transparency and reform in the earmarking process,”

He said a better approach may be to limit earmark spending without banning it entirely. “In limiting earmarks to less than one per cent of discretionary spending, we ensure excesses of the past are not repeated.”