Nothing highlighted Congress's spending problem in last year's election more than earmarks, the special projects like Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" that members drop into last-minute conference reports leaving no opportunity to debate or amend them. Voters opted for change in Congress, but on earmarks it looks as if they'll only be getting more smoke and mirrors.There is at least one member of Congress who wants to end the corruption:
Democrats promised reform and instituted "a moratorium" on all earmarks until the system was cleaned up. Now the appropriations committees are privately accepting pork-barrel requests again. But curiously, the scorekeeper on earmarks, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS)--a publicly funded, nonpartisan federal agency--has suddenly announced it will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number or background of earmarks. "They claim it'll be transparent, but they're taking away the very data that lets us know what's really happening," says Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. "I'm convinced the appropriations committees are flexing their muscles with CRS."
Indeed, the shift in CRS policy represents a dramatic break with its 12-year practice of supplying members with earmark data. "CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals," stated a private Feb. 22 directive from CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan.
When Sen. Coburn and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina submitted earmark inquiries recently, they were both turned down. Each then had heated conversations with Mr. Mulhollan. The director, who declined to be interviewed for this article, explained that because the appropriations committees and the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) were now preparing their own lists of earmarks, CRS should no longer play a role in the process. He also noted that both the House and Senate are preparing their own definitions of earmarks. "It is not appropriate for us to continue our research," his directive states.
Sen. Coburn plans to fight back. He says he will attach an amendment to every appropriations bill demanding CRS prepare a full report on the earmarks in it. "Let senators vote for secrecy and prove they don't want a transparent process or let them deliver what they promised," he says. "The choice will be theirs and the American people will be watching."It seems to be the case that many people are watching. I suspect a large part of the Republican defeats in the last election were due to many people thinking the party running Congress was misuing Congressional power. Now the other party runs the Congress and it seems nothing has changed. Or, perhaps it would be safe to say something is changing in Congress, i.e., the members of Congress are now trying very hard to hide their earmarking corrupt ways from public view. Of course, that is not a good change.
Even though there are many Americans who are paying attention to Congress and earmarks, many, many are not. Perhaps the Curse of Rational Ignorance just can't be broken?