Canton Repository

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., behind bars.

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 I’ve sponsored.”

EARMARK PRACTICE

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.

VOTE REACTION

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 the vote.

“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.