Bi-partisan legislation introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would make it harder for lawmakers to slip funding for pet projects into appropriations bills at the last minute with little public oversight. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, there were 11,524 earmarks totaling more than $16.5 billion in Fiscal 2008.
McCain is joined by Senate Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, as well as fellow Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in sponsoring the measure. The bill would require all appropriations bills -- as well as anything added during House-Senate negotiations -- be made electronically searchable to the public 48 hours before the Senate votes on it. The bill would also require recipients of federal funding to disclose any money spent on lobbyists.
DoD photo by USAF Tech Sgt. Suzanne M. Day
McCain and other reformers have complained over the years that billions of dollars are slipped into spending bills – albeit legally – by lawmakers after the bill has already gone through the committee hearing process. Supporters of so-called “earmarks” say they are valuable in providing funding for projects in home states and districts. But opponents, like McCain and McCaskill, call them vehicles to deliver pork barrel spending benefiting few taxpayers.
Their Fiscal Discipline, Earmark Reform, and Accountability Act of 2009, would also allow senators to challenge earmarks by raising a point of order to remove them in appropriations bills if the project was not authorized in a separate bill. A 60-vote super-majority would be needed to override the point of order and keep the earmark in the bill.
Meanwhile, the chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have announced additional changes in policy to increase transparency and cut down on earmarking. Lawmakers will be required to post information on their official websites about any earmark requests they make, explaining the purpose and why it is of value. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said they will also require disclosure tables of earmarks to be made public 24 hours before a full committee begins amending legislation that has not been reviewed by a subcommittee.