With their counterparts in the House forced to cut a deal with the GOP after taking a public relations beating over their handling of earmarks, Senate Democrats announced Wednesday that they will take a markedly different approach and will publicize all earmarks in spending bills as they are approved by the Appropriations Committee.
In a statement released by the spending panel Wednesday, Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said the committee is committed to increased sunshine and that “as a committee and as a Senate, we are committed to ensuring the public’s confidence in how these bills are written. We are moving forward with our bipartisan effort to ensure accountability and transparency in the appropriations process.”
The panel will publish a full list of earmarks and their sponsors on its Web site following markups. The earmark information also will include the amount being requested, the entity (or location if no entity is specified) that will receive the funding and the purpose of the earmark.
The committee also has posted the financial disclosure forms for its entire membership on its site, as well as letters from Senators who have requested earmarks certifying that neither they nor their spouses have a financial interest in any project they are promoting.
House Republicans, meanwhile, slowed action on the House floor to a crawl before striking a deal on earmarks with Democrats on Wednesday evening. Republicans had attacked Appropriations Chairman David Obey’s (D-Wis.) decision to delay listing earmarks and their sponsors until after bills pass the House floor.
Obey told reporters that Democratic and GOP leaders had an agreement in principle but he declined to discuss details until the deal was cemented. He did say the deal would allow for a “reasonable schedule” for the House to move the 12 spending bills while maintaining the rights of Members to object to earmarks on the floor.
A GOP aide familiar with the negotiations said the agreement includes a deal to bring all of the bills to the floor with earmarks included, except for the military construction and Homeland Security measures. Homeland Security currently is being debated on the floor.
Obey indicated that bills with fewer earmarks contained in them would move first, and large bills would move later in the schedule. “It will make people feel comfortable about their rights and the processes here,” he said.
Obey defended his initial decision to hold off on earmarks until the bills get to conference with the Senate. “It’s all governed by one simple question: How long does it take to screen Member requests?” he said.
Obey said he would like the House to stay in session until Saturday to make up for time lost on the floor. “We’ve got to keep moving these bills,” he said. “People don’t get what it takes to screen earmarks.”
Obey, who has engaged in some heated floor exchanges since Republicans decided to slow-walk the Homeland Security spending bill, appeared mollified by the deal. “I’ll be in a better mood when I get some sleep, I got none last night,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.