Inouye should heed wind shift on earmarks


POSTED: Monday, March 15, 2010

Members of Congress use earmarks to spend federal dollars on projects in their home states, and no one is more deft in doing so than Sen. Daniel Inouye. At some point, Inouye should prepare to accept guidelines issued by President Barack Obama and supported by House members claiming the ethical high ground.

The highly political issue is receiving great attention in the House, even though earmarks consist of less than 2 percent of the federal budget. However, all House members are up for re-election in November and are trying to be seen as ethically pure. While House Democratic leaders favor banning budget earmarks to private industry, House Republicans are calling for a more sweeping ban, not limited to for-profit companies.

Inouye, the Hawaii Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the announcement by the House Democrats “;quizzical,”; adding in a statement: “;I don't believe this policy or ceding authority to the executive branch on any spending decision is in the best interests of the Congress or the American people.”;

Inouye has been effective in his effort to bring federal dollars home to Hawaii for various projects. None of his earmarks have been shown to be as outrageously wasteful as former Sen. Ted Stevens' $223 million earmark to build a “;bridge to nowhere,”; linking a small Alaska town to a remote island.

Inouye, whose earmarks have concentrated on the military, especially at Hawaii bases, pointed out that they were the early source of funding for what became the Predator program, the drones used today in airstrikes in Afghanistan. If not for earmarks, he said, “;we would not have the Predator today.”;

Changes in the past few years have required every earmark, its sponsor and the amount and nature of the project to be made public before Congress votes on it, so present standards prevent skullduggery.

Under the House Democratic proposal, only not-for-profit institutions such as schools and colleges, state and local governments, research groups, social service centers and others remain free to receive earmarks.

Inouye said “;it does not make sense to discriminate against for-profit organizations.”;

As he pointed out, many nonprofit organizations have powerful lobbying operations.

However, an investigation by the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics reported two weeks ago about a “;widespread perception”; among private-sector recipients of earmarks that giving political contributions to House members of the defense appropriations subcommittee helped them secure grants.

Hawaii's king of pork needs to brace himself for new rules that are bound to make the task more difficult but aims to regain the public's trust.