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Earmark watchdog shuts down

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Coming on the heels of the Democrats using $20 billion in pork to buy votes for their war-funding bill, this has me a little bit wary:

federal agency that tracked pork-barrel spending during the 12 years of the Republican congressional majority has discontinued the practice….

The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency of the Library of Congress created to conduct research for members of Congress on legislative issues, changed its policy in February — a month after Democrats took control of the Congress and vowed to curb the number of special-interest projects inserted into spending bills or even reports that don’t require a vote.

The stated reason:

CRS said the Office of Management and Budget recently has been taking on a greater role in monitoring earmarks. And with both chambers of Congress this year establishing new guidelines and clearer definitions of earmarks, the agency said its role as a scorekeeper of earmarks is obsolete.

Fair enough, if true. And some of it is. The OMB, for instance, decided to get tough on earmarks back in February. And Congress has indeed passed tougher earmark guidelines.

But the OMB policy is simply that, a policy — one that can be rescinded at any time. And we have yet to see how the new Congressional guidelines will work — or if they will work — in practice. Perhaps we should see how the new mechanisms work before scrapping one that has served us well for 12 years.

Further, while OMB will track earmarks, it won’t do earmark research for Congress members the way CRS does — er, did.

Congressional Republicans make two other good points:

said they want an independent observer because pork is often in the eye of the beholder and estimates of the amount vary widely….

Mr. DeMint said no other agency or group has the resources, expertise and access to provide Congress with data on earmarks.

Yup.

There’s no evidence that Democrats pressured CRS to drop the monitoring. But CRS should reconsider it’s decision and continue tracking earmarks for at least another year until we see how the replacement mechanisms hold up.