Bipartisan Greed on Capitol Hill

During the 2006 congressional campaign Democrats denounced the Republican majority for its wastrel ways. It was a fair criticism: the GOP lavished money on pork as well as entitlements. There was, it seemed, no program which the Republicans didn’t want to increase!

Now the Democrats are in charge, and, well, nothing much has changed. The symbol of congressional waste and corruption is the earmark, an appropriation typically directed by one legislator to a major constituent or campaign contributor. Alas, the supposedly reformist Democrats have joined ranks with the supposedly reformed Republicans to support every earmark that comes to a vote. The chief antagonist of earmarks, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), writes Robert Novak:

is immensely unpopular on both sides of the aisle for forcing votes on his colleagues’ pork. He burnished that reputation by prolonging the marathon Saturday session and challenging selected earmarks.

The undisputed king of earmarks today is Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who, despite being defeated in his run for Majority Leader, remains close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who comes in 4th. Other members of the Democratic leadership–Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) are big porkers.

So greedy have been Democratic legislators to transfer taxpayer resources to the coffers of their political buddies that Rep. Obey, a leading porker himself, recently complained that “lawmakers increasingly saw themselves as ‘A.T.M. machines for our districts’ and spent less time on genuine policy issues.” Imagine that!

Well, there is good news. Earmarks ballooned from 3,000 in 1996 to 16,000 in 2005. So far this year the Democrats have approved only 6,500.