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Democrats face outcry over 'earmarks'
Las Vegas Sun


December 29, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Democrats may have released a fury in their attempt to set new standards for the so-called earmark process.

Some lawmakers have vowed to battle for pet projects that they believe are worthwhile and should not be tarnished by the Washington scandals that brought heightened scrutiny to earmarks.

Case after case unfolded over the past two years - including now-imprisoned California Republican Rep. Randy Cunningham trading bribes for earmarks and the Alaska delegation's $220 million earmark to connect a small island on which Ketchikan is located with an airport that became famously known as the "bridge to nowhere."

Democrats are considering new rules that, among other things, would require members to put their names on earmarks and disallow last-minute earmarks that get slipped into bills without debate.

Battle lines are being drawn between earmarks with full transparency and those done under cover.

"There is no doubt that the earmark process has been badly abused," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. But the projects that she has put her name to are important, she said.

"For a growth community like Southern Nevada, those earmarks have been very beneficial and have enabled us to keep up with pressing growth," she said.

She and others were caught off-guard last week by the incoming Democratic chairmen's announcement.

As Democrats prepare to take control in January, they are saddled with the enormous task of passing nine of 11 spending bills left behind by Republicans for fiscal 2007, which started Oct. 1.

Rather than spend precious time on the bills as President Bush begins to lay out 2008 spending plans, the Democratic chairmen hope to instead pass a sweeping resolution to keep the government funded until of the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

There would be no earmarks in that measure, forcing supporters of all of the earmarks pending in the 2007 budget to try again next year.

Fiscal conservatives like earmark reform as a way to rein in government spending, noting that the cost of earmarks has doubled in the last decade to $29 billion.

Ronald Utt, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, welcomed the chairmen's action, saying if Democrats are "serious about starting clean ... the best way to do it was to wipe out the earmarks of the previous Congress and start over."

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Ketchikan, Alaska