Appropriator unveils plan to publish earmarks for all to criticize

Aiming to reclaim the public relations high ground, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., announced Monday that he would insert in the Congressional Record a list of earmarks requested by House members his panel intends to push in conference on fiscal 2008 appropriations bills.

Under Obey's emerging plan, members would have a chance to review -- before the August recess -- the published lists of earmarks the House will attempt to include in conference. Members then would be invited to submit in writing any criticism of the projects; the requesting member would be allowed to rebut any such attacks.

Once that process is complete and the Appropriations Committee is armed with the pros and cons of any disputed earmarks, conference talks could begin with the Senate, which plans to include earmarks in its initial versions.

"That's not a perfect process. Nothing around here is perfect. But it's an honest effort to reform the process and the effort is put together by people who have a solid track record of reform in the past," Obey told reporters.

As the appropriations process begins in the House this week with four bills on the floor, Obey and House Democrats had hoped that attention would be focused on the robust spending increases they are proposing for veterans' health, homeland security, education, environment and social services. But Obey in particular has been stung by the criticism of his plan to keep the initial House versions earmark-free, which Republicans have painted as an effort to "hide" special projects from the public.

"It sounds like Mr. Obey has created a complaints department, not an open and deliberative process that guarantees accountability for the American taxpayer," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Democrats are still making it easy to hide wasteful spending from the American people and making a mockery of their pledge to make the appropriations process more open and transparent." He said Republicans would use procedural tactics during floor debate this week to challenge Obey's approach.

Obey said Republicans such as Boehner and Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., have no business lecturing him.

"Given the criticism that we've got from Jerry Lewis and John Boehner, I'm going to place my record on congressional reform and congressional ethics side-by-side by Mr. Boehner's and Mr. Lewis' anytime, baby, anytime. I think it's fair to say that my whole career here has been defined by the reform movement," he said, dating to 1970s ethics reforms such as limits on outside income from practicing law and campaign finance legislation.

Obey also noted that earmarks proliferated under GOP rule as well as the much-derided practice of "airdropping" special interest provisions such as a liability shield for flu vaccine manufacturers tucked into the fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill in conference.

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