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Earmarks in, Reforms out of THUD Measure

House and Senate Democrats have inserted at least 18 previously undisclosed earmarks into the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies spending bill totaling more than $24 million, while taking steps to limit access to key budget documents prepared for appropriators by federal agencies.

Republicans wasted little time in attacking the new spending and accusing Democrats of hypocrisy. “The new majority just doesn’t seem to get it. They came to power by criticizing Republican abuses, and were justified in doing so. But now they are committing the same abuses,” Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said in a statement.

According to a review of the THUD conference report posted on the House Rules Committee Web site, the vast majority of the new “airdropped” earmarks are for relatively benign projects.

For instance, the report includes $750,000 for a “Mobile Downtown Airport Ramp Rehabilitation and Drain Repair” project in Mobile, Ala., sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), as well as $1 million in new spending for an “American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Related Transportation Improvement” project in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

But in addition to new earmarks, Democrats again appear to be targeting reforms to the appropriations process backed by Senate conservatives that passed earlier this year. The bill includes language prohibiting federal agencies from providing their “budget justifications” to any committees in Congress other than the appropriations committees. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a longtime critic of the appropriations process, earlier had cut a deal with the Office of Management and Budget to begin providing those budget justification documents to the public since, unlike the president’s yearly budget submission, the justifications provide a detailed breakdown of the specific projects that will receive federal funding.

A Republican familiar with the deal said appropriators — who long have used the justifications to develop the yearly spending bills — had resisted that effort, in part because they are wary of authorizing committees using them to exert more control over the spending process.

Democrats have used several appropriations measures so far this year to strip out other reform measures backed by conservatives. For instance, the conference report on the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies spending bill included provisions eliminating a series of earmark reform rules backed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

“It’s atrocious,” Coburn said. “A lack of transparency leads to a lack of accountability as we’ve seen time and time again in appropriations bills, including this one.”

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