From Earmarking to Phonemarking

colson2Just four months ago, the new Democratic majority in Congress vowed to curb earmarks and run the cleanest Congress ever. Not everybody believed them, but I for one gave them the benefit of the doubt. No more spinach subsidies, no more “fact-finding” tours to the Caribbean. No more bridges to nowhere. The new House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, bragged about how transparent the new government was going to be. As I said on BreakPoint at the time, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were “off on the right foot in their plan to change ethics rules and to require a detailed public accounting of earmarks.” “If they keep their promises,” I said, “I’ll be the first to say, ‘Well done!’” Well, four months later, as the Washington Post noted in a front-page story last week, the pork is still being served. Congress is not only still gouging taxpayers, they’re also finding more devious ways of hiding it. Instead of earmarking, they’re engaging in what lobbyists now call “phone-marking.” For instance, when the House passed a bill funding the Department of Energy for 2007, legislative leaders boasted that the legislation contained no earmarks. But within days, Majority Leader Harry Reid and other lawmakers began contacting the Energy Department, attempting to obtain money outside of the congressional appropriations process by going directly to the agencies. As the Post noted, Reid sent a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman pointing out that the funding bill contained no earmarks. True. But then Reid noted that the legislation set aside $300 million in new money for research in energy efficiency and renewable energy. He suggested that some of this money be used to reverse the administration’s plan to cut its geothermal-energy research program. Reid demanded that the administration fund this program at 2006 levels or higher—something that would benefit Reid’s state of Nevada. Earmarks by any other name are earmarks, no difference from previous years. How about Nancy Pelosi, who was going to lead the charge to clean up Congress? One of the new Democratic reforms demanded that House members certify that neither they nor their spouses have any financial interest in earmarked projects. But here is Pelosi asking for $25 million to improve the San Francisco waterfront. She kept quiet about the fact that her own family owns interests in four buildings near the proposed project. Then there’s that new emergency spending bill for Iraq, just passed in the House, which supposedly contains no earmarks. But the bill includes a little-noted clause declaring that all those pork projects lawmakers had shoved into the previously vetoed bill were included. Some transparency. And the king of pork, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, threatened a Republican for challenging one of Murtha’s earmarks, telling him, “You’ll never get any earmarks now or forever.” And when Congress moved to censure Murtha, it failed on a party-line vote. This is nothing but blatant, log-rolling, power politics—sickening, in fact. Lawmaking is supposed to be about advancing the common good—not wheeling and dealing in order to hang onto power. I was disgusted when the Republicans got elected to clean up this kind of stuff and didn’t. Now the Democrats are back in power and doing it all over again. I say it’s time to hold them all accountable, Republican and Democrat alike. Outraged citizens should remind our legislators that we get the last word—we get to vote every two years. Maybe, just maybe, we throw enough of these guys out, they’ll get the message.  
Today's BreakPoint Offer
Chuck Colson, God & Government (Zondervan, 2007, previously Kingdoms in Conflict)  
For Further Reading and Information
BreakPoint Commentary No. 070105, “Getting Rid of the Pork: Can the Democrats Pull It Off?” “In the Democratic Congress, Pork Still Gets Served,” Washington Post, 24 May 2007. “House Democrats Reject GOP Effort to Reprimand Murtha,” Washington Post, 22 May 2007. Robert Novak, “Murtha's Friends,”, 28 May 2007. “Intelligence Bill's 'Earmarks' No Longer Secret,” USA Today, 24 May 2007. “CAGW Names Rep. John Murtha Porker of the Month,” Citizens Against Government Waste, 22 May 2007. BreakPoint Commentary No. 060501, “Empty Monuments to Human Ego: The Scandal of Congressional ‘Earmarking’.”


Chuck Colson


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