Skip to comments.CA: Lewis balks at earmark legislation
Posted on 09/14/2006 9:43:13 AM PDT by NormsRevenge
House Republican appropriators remained unwilling yesterday to publicly endorse their leaderships resolution requiring disclosure of earmark sponsors, setting up a possible rebellion by committee members that could bring down the resolution.
Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) huddled with his panel yesterday afternoon but emerged with no firm panel-wide plan to oppose the earmark-reform resolution. Many GOP appropriators believe the resolution singles out their committees product while applying a narrow definition of tax and authorizing earmarks.
We are attempting to communicate with leadership that this committee feels very strongly that earmark reform is a priority, but it should apply to everybody, Lewis said after the meeting. We feel very strongly that... the broad-based membership should be involved in it, not just the Appropriations Committee.
Lewis and other appropriators stressed that the panel would stay unified even as todays slated floor vote looms and the pressure mounts to give leadership a win heading into the midterm elections. Reps. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) and Don Sherwood (R-Pa.), who are members of the panel, said appropriators were of one mind on the resolution.
Were still having concerns that it doesnt apply to all committees, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said. The pension bill that passed the House in July, he added, had a number of very positive provisions in it for different companies that would not be deemed an earmark according to the reform resolution, drafted by House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.)
That resolution would allow the Joint Committee on Taxation to determine tax earmarks because of scoring demands. A Rules Committee summary defines a tax earmark as any revenue-losing provision that provides a Federal tax deduction, credit, exclusion, or preference to only one beneficiary.
Authorizing earmarks are defined similarly to appropriations earmarks in the summary, as provisions that permit funds to be allocated outside of the normal formula-driven or competitive bidding process and to be targeted to a specific entity, State, or Congressional district.
Republican Appropriations staff distributed a paper last week explaining loopholes in the language that would allow members of the tax and authorizing committees to avoid the restrictions that would hamstring appropriators.
Particularly galling was a section that, they argue, allows tax writers ostensibly to define what is and what is not an earmark.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) dismissed that concern yesterday following a lunch with members of his committee.
To ease passage, Republican leaders have coupled the rule for the bill with the language of the resolution itself. This prevents opponents from bringing down the earmark changes on a procedural vote and, in essence, dares them to vote against legislation to stem government spending.
This showdown comes two months before the November election and puts GOP leaders in the awkward position of angering the Appropriations chairman as those same leaders roll out a series of measures to beef up security on the border that are supposed to be included in the annual spending bills.
The fight also endangers party unity on the brink of the midterms. As appropriators held their meeting, Republican Study Committee (RSC) leaders held a rally on the Cannon Terrace to tout the resolution as a first step toward more comprehensive reform.
RSC Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) tied the resolution into the GOPs election message of fiscal responsibility: The answer is not more big-spending liberals, the answer is more conservative Republicans.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has forced numerous floor votes to kill individual member earmarks, recalled the RSCs attention-grabbing Operation Offset plan to cut federal spending, which help push through last years $47 billion budget-cutting reconciliation bill.
You can do all that and have one Bridge to Nowhere that in the public mind trumps everything, Flake said, warning that the public recognizes [earmarks] as a Congress out of control.
Republican appropriators have not universally supported the position of Lewis and committee staff.
During a meeting last week, committee members, including Reps. John Carter (R-Texas) and Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), recommended that their colleagues pass an internal committee rule to deal with the earmark issue, said one member present. That move might preempt leaders from bringing a broader bill to the floor.
At the same meeting, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told members they should support the leadership language, the same member said. Others stood with Lewis in objecting to the changes.
Its not what they told us they were going to do, said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who has been a vocal critic of the conservative members who are leading this fight. [The leaders] told us all the committees would be treated the same, he added, referring to a deal struck with appropriators in May to secure their votes for a lobbying-reform package now stalled in conference.
LaHood doubted the rules change would have any resonance with voters this campaign season.
I think the elections will be about the war in Iraq and the war on terror, LaHood said after emerging from the meeting. I dont think were going to rise or fall on this.
Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), an appropriator who serves in the leadership, has been the chief negotiator between the committee and the House leaders during the last two weeks, members said.
At least one Republican legislator yesterday questioned the wisdom of Lewis waging a battle on earmark reform given the ongoing federal investigation on whether or not he used his influence illegally to insert earmarks on spending bills that would benefit the clients of his friends and/or former staff.
I have never seen a member more unaware of his own personal situation, one Republican said yesterday.
Lewis has denied any wrongdoing and the Justice Department has not charged any members, staff or lobbyists with illegal activity on the issue.
Leadership may be hoping to peel off enough Democrats to compensate for the loss of appropriators votes on the earmark-reform plan. One senior House Democratic aide, however, said little whipping is expected on the earmark resolution despite Republican assumptions that most members of the minority will oppose it.
The June vote on a line-item veto bill from RSC member Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) saw 35 Democrats voting with the GOP, including 16 members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition. Eight appropriators, including Lewis, were among the 15 Republicans voting against the line-item veto.
This legislation is not what we would hope for, said Drew Hammill, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It doesnt save a single dollar, doesnt cut a single earmark, doesnt give full disclosure.
Absolute lack of power corrupts absolutely as well.
Darn it, I thought this was a thread about C S Lewis.
What a bunch of arrogant #%&*$#$%s!!!