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Obey Announces Partial Ban on Earmarks

House appropriators announced Wednesday morning that they would reject all earmark requests that benefit for-profit companies.

“We don’t want for-profits involved,” Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said after meeting with House Democratic leadership. “It means there will be 1,000 fewer earmarks.”

Obey said he would hope that the policy would break the appearance of a link between campaign contributions and earmarks.

But, he said, “You will never break totally the appearance of a possibility of a nexus as long as the Congress doesn’t pass campaign finance reform legislation.”

Many of those earmarks have been for defense-related firms.

The move comes a week after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) floated the idea of a total ban on earmarks. It also comes as GOP lawmakers consider a yearlong ban of their own.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that his Members would convene a special meeting Thursday to talk about the possibility of a Conference-wide earmark moratorium.

“I’m talking about a real moratorium,” Boehner said. “There’s no way to be half pregnant on this issue.”

Under the Democratic proposal, the Appropriations panel will also require audits of at least 5 percent of all earmarks directed to nonprofit entities. “This new measure is to ensure that earmarks go to their intended purposes and prevent for-profits from masquerading as nonprofits,” said a joint statement from Obey and incoming Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.).

In lieu of earmarks, Obey and Dicks said they would set up a new program to be run by the Defense Department that will fund projects that could go to for-profit businesses, particularly startups.

Obey said that the new policy was not intended to be a one-year experiment but a long-term practice.

The vast majority of earmarks, however, already go to nonprofits and would not be affected.

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