As noted last week, my Congresscreature, Diana DeGette, voted against earmark reform in the House. Despite her opposition, the resolution passed, so with a couple of exceptions, anonymous earmarks are dead in the House.
I called her DC office to ask why, and one of her aides, Mr. Andrew Ginsberg, called back today. I'm happy to report that he was courteous, helpful, and responsive. What he had to say, I was a lot less happy with.
When I ask why she had voted against the rule change, he gave two arguments. First, it didn't do enough, like H.Res.659 and HR4682, both of which she supported. But both of those bills are huge, omnibus bills, seeking to address all sorts of rules problems, real and imagined. Sinking legislation you don't like by adding parts to add opponents is one of the oldest tricks in the parliamentary book. When the Republicans, wanted to pass reforms in 1995 per the "Contract With America," they passed each rule change on a separate vote, getting different majorities for each measure.
Voting against a measure you support because you can't get fifteen other measures is either not believable or petulent.
The other reason was that not all earmarks would be included. For instance, only bills reported out of committee fall under the new rules, and only tax earmarks which apply to one person would apply. But almost all spending legislation originates in committee, certainly all appropriations bills do. Most legislation that tries to originate on the House floor gets referred to committee, since the chairmen wouldn't have it any other way. And in any case, the author of the bill, or of the floor-offered amendment (another exception), knows what's in his bill or amendment, and who proposed it, so there's an address to go to there. Tax earmarks are another story, but an earmark for a large corporation - an example offered by Mr. Ginsberg - would almost certainly benefit or shareholders in many states. An individual's tax earmark is exactly the kind of thing most likely to be proposed by a representative who would be embarassed by the revelation.
We'll see if Mrs. DeGette lets the best become the enemy of the good when it's stem cell research that's up for debate.
As for specific earmarks, it turns out that Cong. DeGette is responsible for at least $600,000 in anonymous earmarks coming back to Denver. These include:
$200,000 for Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, for a naturally occurring retirement communities demonstration project.
I have no idea what this means. "Naturally occurring retirement communities." What, do they put a bunch of 60-year-olds in caves? They need $200,000 for blasting? Actually, it seems to mean what happens when all the kids at Wisteria Lane grow up and move out, and the families don't want to leave. For some reason, Jewish Family Services seems to be a leader in this nationally.
$150,000 to the City of Denver for housing assistance, mentoring, and other services for homeless families and seniors
Hospice of Metro Denver, for the Life Quality Institute
$150,000 to the Denver Rescue Mission for transitional housing for the homeless
Look, all of this is worthy stuff, but it's $600,000. If every man, woman, and child in the city of Denver gave a dollar, the Federal government wouldn't need to be involved in this at all. I don't want to revisit Referendum C, but why is it any better to have these guys hiring lobbyists to beg for them that to run ads and make their case to the people whose support they profess to have?
When asked why these requests were made anonymously, Mr. Ginsberg replied that, well, that's how earmark requests are made, and that there's no process for attaching a Rep's name to an earmark. Well, there is now. And before, these requests could always be offered as amendments.
So here's a question for you. If Mrs. DeGette ends up in the majority, will she vote to roll back this rule change before or after she proposes her still-unpassable omnibus reform bill? And will either of the papers report on it?