The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Taxpayers 1, Rep. Obey 0

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


When House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) announced his plans to wait until closed-door conference committee meetings between the House and Senate to insert earmarks into spending bills, he declared, “I don’t give a damn if people criticize me or not.”

Well, the criticism came from all corners as Rep. Obey’s pronouncement flew in the face of Democrats’ pledge for transparency and earmark reform.  The earmark lists are supposed to be provided when the House considers its version of the appropriations bills so earmarks can be challenged, amended, or stricken from the legislation.  Instead, Rep. Obey wanted the House to approve the “earmark-free” spending bills with extra money set aside in anticipation of the addition of earmarks chosen by Rep. Obey. 

While Rep. Obey promised the earmark lists would finally be made available before the House and Senate bills are reconciled in conference committees, those conference reports are only given an up or down vote with no opportunity to challenge or strike any individual pork project. 

For his part, Rep. Obey had given the excuse that he and his staff did not have enough time to sort through 36,000 earmark requests and sign off on approved projects.  He told National Review Online, “With all due respect, it’s a helluva lot more important that the committee that has jurisdiction has the time to look at those requests. …I think we have a helluva lot more ability than the individual working alone” to go through the earmarks. 

Rep. Obey appointed himself judge and jury of earmarks, leaving out the public’s input.  Part of the purpose of publicizing earmarks before a vote is for individual citizens to know where their money is going and have the chance to stop pork projects by lobbying their representatives. 

This about face on earmark rules did not go unnoticed.  Numerous editorials criticized Rep. Obey and the Democrats for hiding earmarks.  House Republicans were outraged and worked around the clock using parliamentary procedures to hold up the appropriations process in protest.  CAGW and other bloggers and grassroots organizations applied pressure on representatives to release their earmark requests and force Rep. Obey to make the approved earmarks public before House votes.  A letter to Rep. Obey was signed by hundreds volunteering to help him and his staff vet the earmark requests.

After this wave of protest from across the political spectrum, Democrats finally backed down.  Earmarks will now be included in appropriations bills and subject to debate and amendment, giving taxpayers a much-needed victory in the effort to increase accountability and transparency for billions of dollars in earmarks. 

Alexa Moutevelis

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