Friday, January 11, 2013

Roll Out the Barrel (We'll Have a Barrel of Funds)

More than a few commentators have weighed in recently suggesting that perhaps it is time to consider bringing back earmarks. Considering the legislative constipation that is gripping Congress it could not hurt.

Bloomberg Businessweek is the latest to float the idea that earmarks might provide some impetus for Congress: 
Political hacks used to say pork was the political grease that lubricated legislative deals. Only now do we see how true that was. Would it really be so terrible to reintroduce some congressionally sanctioned bribery? That would let members lay claim to the odd million in the interest of striking a deal worth much more.
We are loathe to think of ourselves as "hacks" (most of our contemporaries probably think we are), but the sentiment is sound.

The simple fact of the matter is this: The easiest vote to cast in Congress is NO. 

This is especially true when legislation does not contain the promise of something of import for a member of Congress and his or her constituents. 

If members of Congress can vote NO repeatedly and without consequence it should be no surprise that Congress fails to act on most all important issues.

A Case in Point

The Labor, Health and Human Services bill is perhaps the most difficult of the appropriations bills to pass. It contains funding for a variety of programs that are opposed by conservative Republicans, and contains provisions on hot-button social issues like abortion and stem cell research. Using earmarks and other forms of persuasion the Republican leadership was able to piece together a majority in support of the House version of the Fiscal Year 2006 Labor-H Appropriations bill. The House passed their version of the bill by a vote of 250 yeas to 151 nays; 206 Republicans and 44 Democrats voted for the bill while 10 Republicans, 140 Democrats, and 1 independent voted against the bill.

On the Senate side the bill was passed by a vote of 94-3, and the House and Senate met in conference to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the bill.  A decision was made in conference to remove $1 billion dollars in earmarks from the bill in favor of increased funding for the National Institutes of Health, and other initiatives favored by Senators Spectre (R-PA) and Harkin (D-IA), leaders of the Senate subcommittee.

When the bill returned to the House the Conference Report on the bill was defeated in the House 209 yeas to 224 nays. This time 22 Republicans voted with 201 Democrats (all voting Democrats) and 1 independent to reject the bill. In all, 85 members who had previously supported the bill in the House changed their votes when the bill returned to the House floor from Conference.  The one major difference between the original House version and the Conference version was the $1 billion dollars in earmarks that were removed from the Conference Report.  Stripping the earmarks upset the delicate balance necessary to pass a controversial bill.

In 2012 the House didn't even consider the FY 2013 LHHS bill on the floor-- the Appropriations Committee could not even vote out a bill out of committee.

It has been years since Congress passed all of the Appropriations bills following regular order. Republican House leaders have resorted to omnibus and "minibus" bills and continuing resolutions to fund government

Forget authorizing legislation. Congress is all but impotent.

Perhaps adding a little fiber to the diet might help? 


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