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GOP to Launch New Offensive on Earmarks

The House GOP will launch a discharge petition Thursday aimed at forcing Democrats to fully disclose earmarks in tax and authorizing bills and allow challenges to them on the House floor.

“The Democrats’ system is so ripe for abuse that it makes a mockery of their promise to run a more transparent and accountable Congress,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “It’s also a step backward from the system implemented by the Republican-led House in 2006 — the one they disingenuously decried as a sham for election-year politics — which applied earmark reform to all types of bills, including authorizing and tax bills.”

The Republican earmark reforms, which were adopted so late last year that they had minimal effect, are very similar to what Democrats ultimately adopted, although in some ways the Democratic rules are stronger, particularly on tax earmarks. But Republicans will argue that in practice Democrats have ignored their rules or used loopholes to get around disclosing earmarks. They want Democrats to allow points of order on the disclosure of earmarks in any bill, with 20 minutes of debate and a vote.

Republicans have charged Democrats with hiding earmarks for hospitals in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill and stuffing other bills with earmarks and preventing Members from challenging them on the House floor.

Republicans charge that Democrats have used a huge loophole to cut off earmark disclosure. Although Democratic earmark reforms adopted in January do apply to all bills, all Democratic chairmen have to do is declare that a bill doesn’t have earmarks to cut off debate and prevent attempts to strike them on the House floor.

Democrats said Republicans had the same language in their earmark package.

“They are total hypocrites now because what they are criticizing is exactly what they put in place on chairmen,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). She also defended the Democrats’ record, noting that they not only have disclosed appropriations earmarks, but also cut them in half.

GOP leaders continue to crow over forcing House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Democratic leaders to back down on a plan to only include earmarks in conference reports, when they would not have been subject to challenge on the floor.

After the GOP floor rebellion, Democrats agreed to a new point of order against air-dropping undisclosed earmarks into appropriations bills’ conference reports, but the new rule did not apply to authorizing and tax measures.

Republicans will point out that many past earmark scandals have occurred not on appropriations bills but on authorizing bills.

But the new effort left the GOP’s chief earmark watchdog, Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), less than excited. “Certainly it’s a good step, I hope we do it, but I think we would do better by setting a good example on appropriations bills,” Flake said. Flake pointed to numerous attempts he and others have made to knock out egregious earmarks only to have most Republicans support the spending for fear that their own pork will be sliced.

“We have opportunities all the time, it’s too bad we haven’t taken advantage of them,” Flake said.

Voters care far more about particular projects than about process, Flake said, and fighting projects would “really create a difference between us and the Democrats. The only difference is we get 40 percent and they get 60. I just don’t know if we know what it takes to get back into the majority.”

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