14 August 2007

FDT on Earmarks

Don't cha just love it when the party apparatchik use new words to describe old practises?

During the last elections, the House Democrats' campaign chief, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, was clear as a bell on earmarks. "For far too long," he said, "business as usual has involved individual members doling out favors in appropriations and other bills through earmarks. The American people deserve to know more than who sponsored special interest legislation. They deserve earmark reform that puts an end to special interest earmarking and provides solutions to prevent the practice of earmark abuse."

As a Republican, I was glad. It's not that earmarks are inherently bad. Some serve important public purposes. But they need to be in the open, for all to see and evaluate, and their use needs to be significantly limited.

In January, the House and Senate both separately passed earmark reform but didn't quite follow through, leaving the final wording to conference committee. As the last session ended, we finally saw the bill, worked out in secrecy by the current leadership. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn got it right when he said it "not only failed to drain the swamp, but gave the alligators new rights."

Immediately, earmark abuse reached new lows, symbolized ridiculously in the bloated children's health bill. Even the New York Times admitted that, despite "promises by Congress to end the secrecy of earmarks and other pet projects," House members "quietly funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to specific hospitals and health care providers." Somehow, hospitals in the districts of a few powerful Members of Congress are now due higher Medicare reimbursement rates than other hospitals.

Apparently, Congress has acquired god-like powers to move hospitals hundreds of miles -- at least for billing purposes. A hospital in Kingston, New York, is deemed, by law, to exist in some sort of accounting twilight zone, 80 miles away in New York City where hospitals face much higher costs. A hospital in rural Green Bay, Wisconsin, has seemingly slipped 200 miles through time and space to the south, materializing somewhere in urban Chicago.

Republican legislators, seemingly cowed by a bill with the word "reform" tacked onto it, should have had confidence that the American people would see through this nonsense -- as witnessed by Congressional approval ratings.

What we need is a stake in the ground for basic reform of the budget and spending process in Washington, and then holding to that promise. Until that happens, and we get spending under control, we'll have Congress continuing to stake bigger and bigger claims on everyone else's hard-earned tax dollars. The President should hold the line and wield his veto as he has promised to do.

To read more commentaries from Fred, click here.

No comments: