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House GOP Seeks to Keep Promise on Earmarks

Although House leaders have yet to appoint Members from their chamber to smooth out differences between House and Senate lobbying reform bills, they are working to make good on their pledge to appropriators that any new earmark disclosures apply equally to all committees.

A GOP leadership aide said that Republican leaders are working with each of the relevant committees to find a way to make earmark disclosures uniform for any bill that contains earmarks.

“We need to have that uniform,” said this aide. “We are working committee by committee.”

In order to get enough support to pass the lobbying and ethics reform legislation, House leaders pledged that any bill would contain disclosure of earmarks, including those in tax-writing and authorizing measures — not just in appropriations bills.

A spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the commitment on earmarks remains.

“They’re committed to ensuring that earmark reform applies to every committee,” said Kevin Smith.

Another House GOP leadership aide said that the Speaker’s office hasn’t fully decided whether conferees from the House will be selected this week but added that discussions are taking place at the staff level.

“They have found a lot of common ground,” the aide said. “More common ground than differences.”

Several sources in Congress and on K Street said they have not detected a sense of urgency from House leaders on appointing conferees.

Jo Maney, a spokeswoman for House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said that “things are being discussed at a staff level,” but she declined to go into specifics. She also said that since Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is the one who must appoint conferees, she didn’t know when that is likely to happen.

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said conferees have not been selected but could come this week.

Fred Wertheimer, president of campaign finance and lobbying watchdog group Democracy 21, said there is much speculation about House leaders not wanting to appoint conferees until the House and Senate have worked out most of their differences between the two bills. Wertheimer added that the two main differences involve reforms of 527 political groups and earmarks.

There is a procedural reason why it may make sense for the House GOP to delay the naming of conferees until the key issues are resolved.

House rules say that 20 calendar days and 10 legislative days after conferees are appointed, Members can file motions to instruct. “That would mean that Democrats could go to the floor as much as they wanted to and pile on” motions, Wertheimer said.

One lobbyist said that such maneuvers can lead to “a series of embarrassing votes for rank-and-file Republican Members. The only way you appoint conferees is when you think you can work out a conference agreement” within that 20-calendar- and 10-legislative-days window.

House leaders, Wertheimer said, “made a commitment to the appropriators” that they would bring a bill to the House floor that includes earmark disclosure for all earmarks.

“Whether they can actually work that out remains to be seen,” Wertheimer said. “Who knows where Ways and Means and Transportation” — two of the key committees for tax and authorizing measures — are on the issue. “That probably is the toughest thing they have to work out,” he said.

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