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Anti-Earmark Coaltion Endorses H.R. 1642, the "Obligation of Funds Transparency Act"
February 15, 2006
The Honorable Jeff Flake
Dear Congressman Flake:
On behalf of the millions of members represented by the organizations below, we write to offer our strong endorsement of H.R. 1642, the "Obligation of Funds Transparency Act." As you know, earmarks are a major problem not only with the Congressional budget process, but with the integrity of the political process as a whole. In recent weeks, as Congress has reacted to scandals involving the close relationships of lobbyists to Members, the need for specific reforms has been acknowledged by elected officials and the media, not to mention the general public.
Earmarking has become more and more prevalent in recent years. Earmarked funding is being tucked away in conference or committee report language for inherently political or wasteful purposes that do little good for the American people. The problem of abusive earmarking has worsened in recent years. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, Congress added a record 14,211 earmarks at a cost of more than $52 billion in fiscal 2004. The growth of earmarks in recently-passed highway spending bills is the most publicly-known source of earmarks. In 1982, for example, the highway bill had 10 earmarks. In 1987, Ronald Reagan vetoed a highway bill because he believed the 187 earmarks it contained were too many. This year's bill had more than 6,000.
Your legislation, though it does not prohibit the practice of earmarking, would help expose some of the most egregiously wasteful and sneaky earmarks. To avoid scrutiny, the sponsors of these earmarks often include them in the Congressional report accompanying the appropriation act rather than the legislation itself. The "Obligation of Funds Transparency Act" would simply require that all earmarks be included in the appropriation act and thus at least made public before the bill's final passage.
Currently, Members of the House cannot amend committee report language; they can only amend the actual text of a bill. Because most earmarks are found in committee or conference reports, it is nearly impossible for Members to introduce amendments that would remove such spending measures and force a debate as to why a specific project is important. To address this problem, your legislation would allow Members to amend a bill's actual legislative language to strip out these earmarks. In addition, your bill contains "point of order" protection that prevents House rules from being waived with regard to attaching non-germane items in the conference report of a spending bill. This will shed light on earmarks attached to conference reports that only the conferees have seen.
The very least Congress should do when it considers necessary lobbying reforms is to allow for a public debate on the merits of pork-barrel spending and earmarks. It makes simple common sense to ask Members of Congress who want special spending projects in their districts to explain to taxpayers why their project should be funded. Every Member of Congress should support this common sense legislation.