RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Obama of course says he wants to change the way Washington does business, but that will be a tall order. When the House takes up a spending measure today, Congressmen will find it loaded with earmarks, thousands of them. Earmarks are those special provisions requested by members of Congress for particular projects in their state or district. One House Republican who opposes the practice is introducing a resolution that would examine the links between these earmarks and campaign contributions.
NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: The resolution comes from Arizona Republican Jeff Flake. He's become one of the chamber's most ardent critics of earmarks. He offered the resolution Monday evening.
Representative JEFF FLAKE (Republican, Arizona): This is not a partisan resolution, because this is not a partisan issue. I would implore my colleagues not to treat it as such.
OVERBY: Flake's resolution mentions no lawmakers or parties, no lobbyists or dollar amounts. He said both parties have to fight the proliferation of earmarks.
Rep. FLAKE: 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? This is certainly an option, but consider the cost to the reputation of this body.
OVERBY: The investigations that Flake referred to have included both Democrats and Republicans. A federal probe three years ago broke up a lobby firm with ties to California Republican Jerry Lewis, then the House Appropriations Chairman. Other investigations of earmark corruption have put three prominent Republicans in prison: Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio and 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, John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Agents also took boxes of documents from the PMA Group, a lobby firm with strong connections to Murtha and some other Democrats on appropriations.
Now PMA is closing down. But today's catchall spending bill has nearly 8,600 earmarks, and the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has even 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 later today to send the spending bill to the Senate, but members will also have to vote on Flake's resolution calling for an ethics investigation. One likely scenario: Democrats will move to table Flake's proposal. That would kill it on a party-line vote with no debate.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.