September 15, 2006
Earmark reform ‘unfair,’ Regula says
By Dana Wilkie and Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula on Thursday joined the
majority of his fellow appropriators in an unsuccessful attempt to
defeat a plan that requires lawmakers to publicly attach their
names to some projects they tuck into tax and spending bills.
Critics called the plan an anemic attempt to address the sort of
corruption that put former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.,
With a 245-171 vote, the House agreed to change rules that now
allow the sponsors of sometimes questionable spending provisions
known as earmarks to remain anonymous. But the measure exempts
earmarks going to federal entities, raising questions whether it
would shed light on the type of activity that involved Cunningham,
who used the Defense Department appropriations process to award
federal contracts in exchange for bribes totaling $2.4 million.
Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said he favors requiring disclosure
of the sponsors of projects, but he added that the plan that
passed was “unfair” because it does not cover Senate projects or
some measures passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“If you’re going to have this kind of reform, you should treat
everybody the same,” he said.
Regula, a defender of lawmakers’ authority to add local projects
to bills, also said, “I don’t mind putting my name on anything
Earmarking is the long-standing and long-criticized practice
allowing lawmakers to slip federal money for hometown projects
into large spending bills with little public scrutiny.
House Republicans were divided over the rule change.
Appropriators, who control the earmarking practice, complained
that the new rule appeared to single out bills under their
jurisdiction and did not apply equally to other committees where
earmarking also happens.
For instance, the last highway bill included 6,373 earmarks
totaling $24.2 billion.
Regula said he supports a plan that House Appropriations Committee
Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., intends to introduce next week
that would extend the earmark identification requirement to the
Ways and Means Committee and Senate.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, did not vote on the measure or any other
bills that came up Thursday or the previous day.
Among other area lawmakers, Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, voted in
favor of the earmark reform. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, opposed it.
Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, who is running for governor, missed
“Often, passing bad reform legislation is worse than passing no
reform legislation at all,” said John Berthoud, president of the
National Taxpayers Union, which had pressed for more comprehensive
measures that included limits on gifts and trips. “Some might
argue that we should go ahead and accept a weak bill with the hope
it can be strengthened later. I think it will work in just the
opposite way — a weak bill now will probably be an impediment to
real action later.”
While the House-passed reform is hardly far-reaching or even
permanent — the plan applies only to the House and only through
the end of this year — many Republicans and good-government
watchdogs consider it an important “down payment” on future,
tighter reforms that Congress has discussed. Those reforms have
been shelved because of differences between the House and Senate
and strong resistance from some lawmakers.
Democrats, meanwhile, called Thursday’s vote political cover for
Republicans who want voters to believe they’ve addressed Capitol
corruption before November’s election.