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GOP Split on Earmark Reform

With hopes for a broader lobbying package still stuck in neutral, House Republican leaders are working to head off another confrontation with GOP appropriators and pass an earmark reform resolution this week.

“We are working with all of the relevant chairmen and Members on the language and the mechanics,” said Kevin Madden, spokesman for Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), on Friday. Boehner “is determined to get it done.”

Leaders face a potentially rocky path to final passage as members of the Appropriations Committee balked at the initial proposal laid out Sept. 7, arguing that the language did not make good on a promise made by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) in late April to apply reforms equally to appropriations, tax and authorizing legislation. That last-minute deal was negotiated to secure appropriators’ support for a procedural vote to bring the broader lobbying and ethics overhaul package to the floor.

“The committee is very much against what’s been put on paper,” Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), an appropriator, said Thursday. “It doesn’t allow for the same standard to be set for other committees, and it doesn’t keep the promise made by the leadership.”

LaHood said appropriators were unanimous in their opposition to the draft proposal but were open to further negotiations. “We’re going to try and get back to the commitment they made,” LaHood said.

Aides familiar with the legislation cautioned last week that it was a working document and that the proposal given to appropriators was not the final draft. “We are not shoving anything down their throats,” one GOP aide said.

No formal meetings were scheduled this week as of press time Friday, but conversations were expected into the weekend among senior aides and Members.

The resolution, which would take effect immediately and apply only to the House, would create a new point of order that could be raised against committee reports or conference agreements if the sponsors of earmarks included in the legislation were not identified.

The reform measure does not eliminate earmarks or change the process by which earmarks are inserted into legislation, but rather it increases transparency on a popular process that has increasingly become the target of fiscal conservatives’ ire over how federal dollars are spent.

Passage of an earmark resolution would also give Republicans an accomplishment to cite when critics — especially Democrats — criticize the GOP for being unable to reach a bicameral agreement on the broader lobbying and ethics reform package.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Democrats have yet to see the language of the proposal but believe it does not represent real reform.

“From what we understand, their measure won’t save a single dollar for the American taxpayers, and it doesn’t impact earmarks in authorizing legislation,” he said. “It’s not the full amount of transparency that American taxpayers expect and deserve.”

Democrats are likely to offer a motion to recommit the resolution, substituting instead their own ethics package.

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