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GOP Group Proposes More Transparency for Earmarks

Senate Republicans called Thursday afternoon for greater transparency in one of the most controversial areas for lawmakers: earmarks.

Chaired by Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), the Fiscal Reform Working Group — which includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — made several suggestions that will make it easier for the public, and other lawmakers, to find pork.

Asked whether the Republicans would adopt the proposed changes as a Conference, McConnell said he was leaving that up to individual Senators, but that the mission of the working group was to present a proposal for rule changes to the entire Senate body.

But the idea may just be wishful thinking. A one-year moratorium on earmarks failed, 21-79, in a late-night March 13 vote.

The GOP proposal is not as radical as the one-year ban, but will no doubt generate opposition. The group suggested changes to the way earmarks are reported, proposing that the earmarks be included in the actual text of an appropriations bill. Now, earmarks are only included in a bill’s conference report.

The GOP Senators proposed posting the earmark on the Web site of the Senator who authored it and the committee that considered the bill in which it rides.

The GOP reform group also includes Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), a vocal earmark opponent who often takes his colleagues to task for wasteful spending.

At the presser, Isakson called earmarks “provocative and controversial” and said it will be much easier to finger the Senator sponsoring the earmark if the group’s proposal is adopted.

Coburn went even further, saying the money for a failed earmark should automatically head to the U.S. Treasury to pay down the national debt.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pointed out that Democrats have already taken steps to provide greater openness.

“Democrats agree that there should be more transparency and accountability in this process — which is exactly why we did it a few months ago after years of inaction by Republican-led Congresses,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

“We led the passage of the most sweeping earmark reform in history, requiring transparency, 48-hours advance notice, publishing earmarks on the Internet in a searchable format, requiring Senators to confirm that they and their families have no financial interest, and other key reforms.”

Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), a member of the group, noted that Members have a constitutional role in appropriating federal dollars.

Cochran said the goal of the Republican proposal is not to restrict a Senator’s powers, but to bring “due care, constraint, and [a] thoughtful process” to the way earmarks are presented and reported.

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