NY Times: Leaders in House Block Earmarks to Corporations
House Democratic leaders on Wednesday banned budget earmarks to private industry, ending a practice that has steered billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies and set off corruption scandals.
The ban is the most forceful step yet in a three-year effort in Congress to curb abuses in the use of earmarks, which allow individual lawmakers to award financing for pet projects to groups and businesses, many of them campaign donors.
But House Republicans, in a quick round of political one-upmanship, tried to outmaneuver Democrats by calling for a ban on earmarks across the board, not just to for-profit companies. Republicans, who expect an intra-party vote on the issue Thursday, called earmarks “a symbol of a broken Washington.”
Both parties are seeking to claim the ethical high ground on the issue by racing to rein in a budgeting practice that has become rife with political influence peddling. So far, though, the Senate is not joining in. House Democrats had tried to reach an agreement with their counterparts to ban for-profit earmarks, but the senators balked, Congressional officials said.
Had the ban on for-profit earmarks been in place last year, it would have meant the elimination of about 1,000 awards worth a total of about $1.7 billion, leaders of the House Appropriations Committee said in announcing that, as a matter of policy, they will no longer approve requests for awards to for-profit groups. Many of those earmarks went to military contractors for projects in lawmakers’ home districts.
Under the new restrictions, not-for-profit institutions like schools and colleges, state and local governments, research groups, social service centers and others are still free to receive earmarks. The new restrictions, for example, would still allow the type of award to local governmental agencies that became infamous in 2005 with Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.”