Congressional Democrats and President Bush want to see cuts in the number of narrowly targeted spending provisions and tax breaks in federal legislation and more openness about who their Capitol Hill sponsors are. Construction industry officials are keenly interested in how the issue plays out, because many of these congressional "earmarks" are highway, water resources or other infrastructure projects.
House Democrats, who officially became the chamber's majority party when the 110th Congress convened Jan. 4, have proposed a rule requiring that any committee-approved bill, amendment or House-Senate conference agreement to contain "a list of congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits and limited tariff benefits" along with the name of lawmakers requesting those provisions.
Lawmakers sponsoring an earmark also would have to certify that they or their spouses have "no financial interest in such congressional earmark or limited tax or tariff benefit," the proposed rule states.
The measure is part of a package of rules drafted by the Democrats that the House is to vote on as early as Jan. 5. It defines an "earmark" as a legislative provision included primarily at a lawmaker's request that specifies funding for grants,loans or contracts "with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific state, locality or congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process."
New House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Jan. 3 that the number of earmarks "will be reduced, not eliminated."
He noted that there will be no earmarks in a planned "continuing resolution" that will combine all of the unfinished fiscal year 2007 spending bills. But looking past the 2007 spending measure, Hoyer, a long-time Appropriations Committee member, said other bills will contain targeted provisions, "but they will be reduced in number and they will be transparent."
Hoyer also said the proposed changes "will apply to all committees, not just the Appropriations Committee" but also such panels as Ways and Means and Transportation and Infrastructure.
After a Cabinet meeting Jan. 3, Bush criticized earmarks, saying they "often divert precious funds from vital priorities like national defense. And each year they cost the taxpayers billions of dollars." He also said that "Congress needs to cut the number and cost of earmarks next year by at least half."
Bush calls for 50% cut in earmarks
Hoyer wouldn't say how big a reduction in earmarks he expected to see, but rejected the idea of ending earmarks altogether. He said that letting only the President allot spending for individual localities "would substantially skew the relationship" between the executive and legislative branches and "undermine" congressional authority under the Constitution to appropriate funds.
Bush also reiterated his call for a line-item veto, which would allow him to delete individual provisions in congressionally approved bills. Hoyer said, "I'm not for that," adding that he feels it would give the President "extraordinary authority."