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Democratic takeover of Congress changes the environment for lobbyists who specialize in earmarks

Reports in the news (Pelosi Says She Would Drain GOP ‘Swamp‘) and on blogs suggest that the Democrats who are about to take control of Congress hope to rein in the practice of earmarking.
An article in the Washington Post last winter explained earmarking:

An earmark is a narrowly focused appropriation. …These home-state projects — which range from highways to research grants — now are commonplace in Congress’s 13 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government….

…Earmarks are supposed to go through a public process. Lawmakers, acting on a need in their districts or states, submit a written request to the appropriate congressional subcommittee and ask the panel’s members for support — in private and at an open hearing.

Instead, projects, many of which are never openly considered, are handed out as favors in exchange for votes on key pieces of legislation by party leaders and appropriations chairmen. Alternatively, earmarks are withheld as punishment when lawmakers fail to toe the party line. In addition, earmarks are regularly slipped into legislation at the very end of the process — during House-Senate conference deliberations.

Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said that 98 percent of the 3,000-plus earmarks added to a single appropriations bill last year were added in conference. Such last-minute earmarks are routinely included in a conference report that cannot be tampered with before final passage.

Schatz said that the proliferation of earmarks started after Republicans took control of the House in 1994. Then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) directed appropriators to help GOP lawmakers with tough reelection races by giving them projects they could boast about back home.

The amount of federal spending allocated by earmarking and other pork-barrel mushroomed during the 12 years of Republican control of Congress (see Washington Post graphic). Earlier this year Republicans instituted some reforms that were supposed to open the process a bit; I hope the newly elected Democrats are willing to go farther…

By hiring a DC lobbyist to the tune of $8000 a month (under a conract that runs until December 2007) Oak Ridge has “invested” heavily in buying influence to get earmarks. Reforms in the process would benefit US taxpayers, while making our city’s “investment” in lobbying services look even less worthwhile than it does already.

If reforms in earmarking come to pass, maybe the city can recoup some of our money by finding useful things for the hired DC political experts to do until the contract runs out. They were hired to help lure garden-variety transportation, recreation, and economic development grants, but Oak Ridge is a city with a major federal government presence that has created some unique problems. Could we use their help with those unique problems?

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