Video & WSJ article | Jim DeMint leads earmark victory
WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 18, 2007; Page A16
If Republicans are wondering how best to shorten their time in the minority, they could do worse than to build on this week’s Senate earmark victory. That reform success proves how good policy translates into good politics.
The Senate on Tuesday passed significant earmark reform, 98-0. But that unanimous tally masks the bitter battle that preceded the vote. When Republican freshmen Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint first launched an effort last summer to make earmarks more transparent, they struggled. Republicans had to be dragged into even minimal reform, and among their first acts after losing the election was to attempt to slip thousands more earmarks into their lame-duck spending bills.
Still, minority status has a way of focusing the mind, and combined with continued DeMint-Coburn shaming, Senate Republicans appear to have re-embraced some principles. When Majority Leader Harry Reid last week attempted to water down House Democrats’ earmark reform, Messrs. Coburn and DeMint rallied enough fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) to outmaneuver the spenders. Red-faced at getting caught trying to submarine their own party’s plan for reform, Senate Democrats did an about-face and jumped on the earmark-reform bandwagon.
The result was a mini-competition as to which side of the aisle was tougher on earmarks, and a final bill that goes beyond even the House reform. Senator DeMint passed (98-0) an amendment that broadens the definition of an earmark; even those slipped into last-minute conference reports will have to be disclosed. Under the original Senate legislation, 95% of earmarks would have escaped scrutiny.
More amazing was Democrats’ new enthusiasm for oversight. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin — who started off trying to tank Mr. DeMint’s reform — finished by passing an amendment (also 98-0) that requires lawmakers to post their earmark requests on the Internet 48 hours before a vote. (The House version of the bill simply requires a public disclosure form.) California Democrat Dianne Feinstein also joined in, passing by voice vote a provision that would bar lawmakers from including earmarks in the classified parts of a bill or a conference report unless they also included language in unclassified terms describing the project, funding levels and sponsor. Classified reports were among the ways that former Rep. Duke Cunningham — now in federal prison — hid his earmark payoffs.
None of this is to suggest earmarks will disappear in Washington. The real test will be whether lawmakers can restrain themselves from inserting pork-barrel projects. The news isn’t encouraging. We hear federal agency telephones have been ringing off the hook, as Congressmen use back-channels to secure earmarks that they’d rather not appear in public.
Still, the reform is a good start. Republicans made headlines with their demands last week, and the news stories were a welcome change for a public appalled by Congress’s spend-happy ways. If conservatives had shown this sort of commitment to their small-government ideals back when it mattered, they might still be in the majority.