House Lawmakers Ponder Pork And Campaign Cash

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As Washington awaits a closer look at President Obama's budget for next year, Congress is still dealing with spending bills for this year's budget.

On Wednesday, the House is scheduled to take up a spending package that covers most of the government and is loaded with earmarks, special provisions targeting money for particular projects, places or companies in members' districts. At the same time, lawmakers also will consider a resolution on investigating the links between earmarks and campaign contributions.

The ethics resolution comes from Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, who has become one of the chamber's most ardent critics of earmarks. "This is not a partisan resolution because this is not a partisan issue. I would implore my colleagues not to treat it as such," he said.

Flake's resolution, which he offered up Monday evening, mentions no specific lawmakers or parties, no lobbyists or dollar amounts. Both parties, he said, have to fight the proliferation of earmarks.

"Some may argue that the absence of a visible quid pro quo with regard to earmarks and campaign contributions absolves us from all responsibility to take action on this resolution. After all, investigations are moving ahead — shouldn't they just take their course?" Flake said. "That is certainly an option. But consider the cost to the reputation of this body."

The investigations that Flake referred to have included both Democrats and Republicans.

A federal probe three years ago broke up a lobbying firm with ties to California Republican Jerry Lewis, who was then chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Other investigations of earmark corruption have put three prominent Republicans in prison: Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio and Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California, and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Since then, Democrats have made the business of earmarking more transparent. They've also cut the dollar value of earmarks. But they still face big questions.

The FBI has raided a defense contractor in the district of a powerful appropriator, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Agents also took boxes of documents from The PMA Group, a Washington lobbying firm with strong connections to Murtha and several other Democrats on the Appropriations Committee.

PMA is closing down, but Wednesday's catchall spending bill has nearly 8,600 earmarks. In fact, the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has identified a handful of earmarks for PMA clients. Almost all of them were requested by Democrats who got campaign money from PMA lobbyists.

The House could vote on the measure later Wednesday to send the spending bill to the Senate. But they'll also have to vote on Flake's ethics resolution.

One likely scenario: Democrats will move to table Flake's proposal, which would kill it on a party-line vote with no debate.

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