Earmark-Loving Conservatives Threaten To Shut Down Congress

For the second day in a row, the House of Representatives was “held hostage” today by conservative leaders threatening to block vital homeland security and domestic spending bills because they disagree with the new process for handling earmarks.

Led by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), this is the same crew that oversaw that “extraordinarily irresponsible explosion of congressional earmarking that began shortly after the Republicans gained control of the Congress in 1995 and lasted until the voters tossed them out this past November.” They now claim to be champions of good government.

Here are the facts: on its first day, the 110th Congress passed the strictest rules governing earmarks ever. The new Congress did not place a single earmark on any of the nine FY2007 spending bills they completed in January, and pledged to cut the number of earmarks in the FY2008 spending bills to half the number that the previous Congress has enacted in FY2006.

Now, the process for the FY2008 spending bills has been delayed — in part because of the protracted Iraq debate, in part because the new Congress had to pass spending bills that the last Congress failed to do, and in part because appropriations committee staffers had to locate tens of thousands of documents for investigators in the Duke Cunningham case. As a result, appropriations chairman David Obey (D-WI) has had to modify the earmark process, but it is still a “far more open and democratic process than we have ever had before.”

[Earmarks] will be made public well in advance — probably more than a month — of the convening of a conference committee. Any earmark found to be egregious during that period can be targeted in the motion to instruct conferees, a motion controlled by the minority party. In addition, the new reforms adopted in January insure that any earmark may be fully debated in conference committee and any member of the conference can move to strike any proposed earmark.

The new-found conservative outrage over earmarks is a sham. Desperate to stop spending bills that they can’t defeat in a straight vote, they are using earmarks as an excuse to throw a wrench into the system.

For a fuller explanation, read this new piece out by American Progress senior fellow Scott Lilly, or watch Obey fight back against his critics last night on the House floor:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/06/obeyearm.320.240.flv]