Bringing Harry Reid to His Knees on Earmark Reform

Republican Senator Jim DeMint led the fight to make earmarks transparent in new Senate rules. But Majority Leader Harry Reid fought tooth and nail to prevent that rule from passing, but he was brought to his knees and forced to cry uncle. By the time the dust settled, the rule passed 98 – 0.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The days of lawmakers slipping pet projects into spending bills at the last minute are ending after the Senate approved a new rule Tuesday forcing members to disclose requests for those “earmarks.”

The earmarks would have to be posted on the Internet at least two days before legislation comes up for a vote.

The new disclosure requirements — part of an ethics and lobbying overhaul that’s expected to come up for a final vote later this week — passed 98-0.

The House already approved similar language to combat earmarks, a much-maligned process in which spending items championed by individual lawmakers are buried in appropriations bills to ease them through the legislative machinery.

The rule change approved Tuesday does not prohibit earmarks, which critics often denounce as “pork barrel” spending. However, senators who request money for a project or tax break that benefits a select group must now provide a written statement outlining the purpose of the request and who will benefit, and certifying that they themselves will not benefit financially.

Those statements must be posted on the Internet within 48 hours after they are submitted to the committee with jurisdiction over the request.

Also, at least 48 hours before a bill comes up for a vote, any earmarks included in the legislation, and the names of their sponsors, must be listed on the Internet. This includes measures that bypass the normal committee process and conference reports reconciling differences between Senate and House bills — both of which have been magnets for earmarks in the past.

Senators will also be prohibited from agreeing to include earmarks to induce another senator to vote their way on another bill.

The new disclosure requirements are similar to those passed by the House, although the House did not require information about earmarks to be posted on the Internet.

The disclosure rules, proposed by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, were originally opposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who backed language with a narrower definition of what constituted an earmark.

But after a procedural vote to shelve DeMint’s proposal failed last week — with nine Democrats breaking ranks — Reid and the Democratic leadership changed course and backed the new requirements.

In spite of Reid’s about face on DeMint’s amendment, a source from inside the Senate says that Reid tried again today to block the Gregg Amendment, which would allow President Bush the power of earmark recission. That means he can send some earmarks back to the Senate to be voted on individually by the entire body. Reid ultimately succumbed to the pressure and agreed to negotiate with Gregg on his amendment. We all know the saying that actions speak louder than words. Well, for a man who says he wants reform and ethics in Congress, Reid is working awfully hard to make sure that billions of American taxpayer dollars flow freely to pork projects, away from any public scrutiny.

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