Obey, Inouye Announce Earmark Cuts, Openness

Posted January 6, 2009 at 12:23pm

The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees on Tuesday jointly vowed to slice the level of earmarks while providing unprecedented disclosure of Member requests.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said that starting with the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, when Members make their earmark requests, they will be required to post the requests on their Web sites explaining the purpose of the earmark and why it is a valuable use of taxpayer funds.

The committees have long kept earmark requests secret, making it impossible to compare funded requests and those ultimately spurned by the committee. Journalists, Members advocating earmark reforms and outside groups have long sought access to those requests.

The committee chairmen also said earmark disclosure tables will be available during subcommittee markups rather than during full committee markups. In the event that a subcommittee markup is not held in the Senate, disclosure tables will be available 24 hours prior to the full committee markup.

Reformers had questioned the past releasing of earmarks only during the final markup, which made it difficult for the public to know what was being funded in time for the committee to make changes.

The chairmen agreed to cut the overall level of earmarks to 50 percent of the 2006 level for nonproject-based accounts. According to the chairmen, the fiscal 2008 spending bills were already cut 43 percent from the 2006 level, so this means a slight additional reduction.

Earmarks would be held below 1 percent of discretionary spending in future years, they said. That amounts to about $10 billion a year.

“Today we build on the unprecedented reforms made to earmarks since Democrats took control of the Congress in 2007,” Obey and Inouye said. “These reforms mean that earmarks will be funded at a level half as high as they were in 2006, face greater public scrutiny, and Members of Congress will have more time and access to more information before they vote on bills and as they prepare amendments.”