Kind Introduces Bill Creating Bipartisan Commission to Reform Earmarking, Restore Public Trust in the Process
‘This is a Bipartisan Problem Requiring a Bipartisan Solution,’ says Kind
Washington, D.C. –– U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), joined by a bipartisan group of his colleagues, including Jim Cooper (D-TN), Melissa Bean (D-IL), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tim Walz (D-MN), Jim Ramstad (R-MN), and Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), today announced the introduction of a bill establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to recommend reforms to the earmarking process, the Bipartisan Earmark Reform Commission Act of 2008 (H.R. 5755).
“Abuse of the earmarking system has eroded the public’s trust in the process and overshadowed the worthy projects earmarks often fund” said Rep. Kind, who has imposed a one-year moratorium on his own earmark requests while he works to reform the process. “From a ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ to a rainforest in Iowa – any member of Congress, whether they are an advocate or foe of earmarks, needs to be accountable to the taxpayers for the staggering growth in earmark spending. While Democrats have made progress on this issue, further reform is necessary, and this commission can help us restore integrity to the earmarking process. I urge my colleagues to support this initiative.”
Current congressional and executive branch earmarking practices have no safeguards to protect taxpayer dollars against waste. The bipartisan commission on earmark reform established by H.R. 5755 is intended to formally define an earmark and examine the earmarking process to develop and recommend reforms that would increase transparency, equity, and fiscal responsibility in the process. The independent commission’s 12 members would be appointed by the Speaker, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the President. They would be required to report back to Congress within six months.
Specifically, the commission would examine:
- Disparities in funding across communities and regions;
- The practice of securing earmarks for for-profit companies;
- The impact of earmarks on the federal budget; and
- The usefulness and sufficiency of current disclosure requirements.
“The earmark process, with all its abuses, has given Congress a black eye and the American people another reason not to trust their government,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), a senior member of the House Budget Committee. “This election year, Congress needs to stop and reevaluate the way we appropriate money for projects around the country. We shouldn’t wait for another indictment to be handed down before demonstrating that we take stewardship of taxpayer money seriously.” Rep. Cooper has also imposed a one-year moratorium on his earmark requests, in hopes that the process will be reformed during that time.
The amount spent on congressional earmarks hit an all-time high in FY 2006, with $29 billion spent on nearly 10,000 projects. When Democrats took the majority, a one-year moratorium on earmarks was imposed for FY 2007, and in FY2008 earmarks were cut by more than half. Democrats also passed transparency requirements that link members to projects and ensure the member has no financial interest earmarks they request. However, the $14.8 billion in FY 2008 congressional earmarking was still distributed with little scrutiny and attention to the merits of the project – instead putting a premium on a Member of Congress’s seniority or authority.
“Individual Members of Congress are uniquely attuned to the needs of their constituents, and they should have some say in how the federal government is going to support projects in their district,” said Rep. Bean. “But we must restore some measure of fiscal responsibility – and sanity – to how projects are funded. This bipartisan commission would account for the true cost of unnecessary earmarks and move us toward the transparency the system needs.”
Equally troubling to the Congressional earmarking process is the Executive earmarking process. Executive agencies have the ability to unilaterally award billions in government contracts, and in 2006, $200 billion went to contractors without a formal bidding process. And while President Bush calls on Congress to reign in earmark spending, rarely even acknowledging his administration’s ability to earmark, he had no problem allocating $24 million to the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program in 2008.
“This is clearly a bipartisan problem perpetuated by both the Congress and the White House, and it requires a bipartisan solution,” Rep. Kind said. “This type of "ATM politics" is threatening good government.”