Flake, an ardent earmark foe, believes a one-line statement in the stimulus bill will help Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) avoid self-imposed earmark transparency requirements intended to give members at least two days to scrutinize and challenge pet projects in all appropriations measures.
The language, included in the rule providing for debate on amendments to the economic stimulus bill, allows Obey to “insert in the Congressional Record not later than Feb. 4, 2009, such material as he may deem explanatory of appropriations measures for the fiscal year 2009.”
Inserting such material in the Congressional Record seems innocuous enough, right? But in a letter sent to Obey, Flake put a much finer point on it. The article continues:
“While providing the explanatory information in the record may meet some loose standard of transparency, its timing will also certainly provide an end run around any effective accountability,” he wrote in his letter to Obey. “It appears there will be little else for members to do except cast a single vote and wait for the media reports on what the bill actually contains, similar to those we’ve seen on the airdropped defense earmarks.”Regardless of what one may think of Flake and his positions on many other issues, his reputation as a crusader against wasteful spending is well known and by any common sense standard, is laudable.
I am not ready to accuse Mr. Obey of making the "end run around effective accountability" that Flake does. However, when questioned about the matter, Obey had to resort to claiming that public financing of election campaigns would eliminate the danger of undue influence on earmarks. This seems like a strange response. How about eliminating most, if not all, earmarks? How about allowing debate and votes on individual earmarks? I suppose it is too much to ask our legislators to simply resist the temptation of exchanging earmarks for campaign contributions.
While I don't think that Mr. Obey intended to convey that the absence of public financing for campaigns means it is OK to insert sweetheart deals into spending bills, I can certainly see how this added language and his response to Flake's concerns might lead one to believe that this is the case.
Transparency in appropriations is more critical than ever given the fact that we have decided to allow government spending to make up our primary response to current economic conditions. To that end, Mr. Obey ought to make clear the reason for his action and pledge to allow the sun to shine completely on the earmark process. Sunshine may be in short supply during Wisconsin winters, but perhaps Mr. Flake can remind him of just how intense an Arizona summer sun can be.