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Oberstar Less Stringent on Earmarks

An extra layer of earmark transparency established by the House Appropriations Committee will not be adopted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the massive transportation authorization bill the panel plans to take up later this year — the sequel to the bill that created the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.—

Transportation Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) will not require Members to post their earmark wish lists at the time their requests are made, his spokesman said, which was a new Appropriations requirement this year.

Instead, Oberstar set a May 14 deadline for Members to submit requests and encouraged them to post the requests on their Web sites, but he stopped short of setting a mandatory deadline.

“We are not giving them a hard deadline [or stipulating] we won’t consider them until they are posted,— said Jim Berard, communications director for the committee. “Our style is bit different than Mr. Obey’s, but our results will be the same.—

In a February letter, Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) informed Members that in order to have any projects considered by his panel, they must post an active link to the request on their Congressional Web site at the time the request is submitted.

Leaders of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have taken a more lenient approach.

In two letters in the past few weeks, committee leaders reminded Members of a slew of House requirements that must be met for any earmark request to be included in the transportation reauthorization bill, which is likely to approve as much as $500 billion in spending.

But the language regarding whether the requests were to be posted on their Web sites differed slightly in the two letters.

“Members are required to post requests on the Member’s website,— said the letter sent April 2 signed by Oberstar, Transportation ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.), Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.).

In a letter sent May 4, Mica and Oberstar merely asked Members to “please post requests for projects— on their Web sites.

Berard said the second letter was a reminder and that projects must be posted.

He said the panel’s decision not to impose a hard deadline does not mean the committee will accept earmark requests that are not posted on a Member’s Web site.

“We are fully expecting them to comply,— Berard said. “Members of Congress who do not [comply] are going to be called on it.—

He said the committee would continue to follow the set of earmark reforms stipulated in the House rules after Democrats took over leadership of the House in 2007. Those rules require disclosure of the names of the sponsors and the recipients of every earmark and require Members to certify that they have no financial interest in any earmark.

“This is a policy that was instituted [by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] that we attach Members’ names to projects,— Berard said. All of the projects in the bill will ultimately be listed on the committee’s Web site.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said following basic House rules was no longer enough.

“The bar has been moved higher by another Democratic chairman,— he said. “The most infamous earmark of all came from this committee, and they aren’t going to be completely transparent.—

“The Appropriations Committee has proven Members can do it — nobody died,— Ellis said.

The scandals that were uncovered as a result of the earmarks placed into the $244.1 billion Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users in 2005 will live far beyond its expiration in September.

Two earmarks from that bill — Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere and the “Coconut Road— earmark inserted into the bill after the legislation had passed — have become ultimate earmark cautionary tales and talking points for lawmakers rallying against excessive spending.

More than 6,000 projects were included in SAFETEA-LU, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Ellis said SAFETEA-LU was “a smorgasbord of road projects that are very hard to track and understand,— and extra efforts at keeping the current bill as clear as possible would be “common-sense good government.—

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