As Earmarks Become Law, House Announces Earmark Reforms

By Danny

Mar 11, 2009 12:58pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Not to be outdone by President Obama, House Democratic leaders today unveiled their own package of reforms to the earmarking process, with a focus on transparency and accountability. The reforms, timed to coincide with the president’s remarks on the subject, are being announced on the same day that a $410 billion spending bill — complete with some 8,500 earmarked special projects — becomes law. The most sweeping elements: The Obama administration will have 20 days to review earmark requests, to “ensure that the earmark is eligible to receive funds and meets goals established in law.” And it will be harder (though not impossible) to guide money to a particular favored interest: “For any earmark intended to be directed to a for-profit entity, the Executive Branch will be required to ensure that the earmark will be awarded through a competitive bidding process.” (This may be hard to enforce, since earmarks are often narrowly written with geographical limitations. If you’re looking to expand research on fruit flies in Altoona, Pa., for example, there may not be too many companies that want the contract.) House leaders also take a shot at controlling the number, and value, of earmarks: “Total funding for non-project based earmarks will be limited to 50% of the 2006 levels and no more than 1% of the total discretionary budget.” The reforms don’t exactly match the president’s comments; Obama has committed himself to an even greater reduction in the number of earmarks. Critics are quickly pointing out that if House Democrats were serious about reform, they could have started with the bill they just wrote. And this doesn’t go nearly as far as the proposal backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others, to empower the president to pick individual pieces of pork out of spending bills. But will House leaders get credit for taking a crack at reform — even if they’re a little late to this party?

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