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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Earmarks, Transparency, and Deliberation

In chapter 13, we discuss earmarks, provisions of spending bills that set aside funds for a specific purpose in a district or state.  Critics of earmarks have often said that they lack transparency, so it is difficult to deliberate about them.  Reforms have met only partial success. The Hill reports:  
Both senators and House members listed their earmark requests on their web sites this year. But even that decision was made without much of Obama's input. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said in January they would require that earmark requests be posted online.

Even with the online postings, the requests aren't easily accessed or sorted, and the earmarks actually awarded are still tucked into the text of legislation that usually isn't released until hours before congressional markups on the bills. That makes it makes it difficult for the public to track earmarks and for lawmakers to hold hearings scrutinizing them, which Obama hoped would happen, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"It's almost impossible to have hearings on them because you don't see the bill until they're voting on it," Ellis said.