WASHINGTON — With the contentious 112th Congress coming to a
close, the talks between the White House, Senate Republicans and Senate
Democrats that secured a path around a looming fiscal crisis on Tuesday may
point the way forward for President Obama as he tries to navigate his second
term around House Republicans intent on blocking his agenda in the 113th.
For two years, the president has seen House Republican leaders as the key to
legislative progress, and he has pursued direct talks with Speaker John A.
Boehner of Ohio and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader.
That avenue of negotiation proved fruitless, in large part because House
Republicans were deeply divided about any compromise that Mr. Obama would
accept. The failure led Mr. Boehner to tell his colleagues this week that he
would not be engaging in any more one-on-one negotiations with the president.
But negotiations over the fiscal impasse pointed to a new and unlikely path as
more fiscal deadlines approach. In this case, Senator Mitch McConnell of
Kentucky, the Republican leader and a veteran legislative dealmaker, initiated
negotiations with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., which instigated talks
between them and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. That produced
sweeping tax legislation that averted large tax increases for most Americans and
across-the-board spending cuts.
Then both Senate leaders worked hard to deliver the votes of a vast majority of
their reluctant members, isolating House Republican leaders, who found
themselves with no way forward other than to put the bill before the House and
let Democrats push it over the finish line.
“I think this is the fourth time that we’ve seen this play out, where Boehner
finally relents and lets the House consider a measure, and Democrats provide the
votes to pass it,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s
second-ranking Democrat. “When they reach the point where their hand is forced,
where there’s no other place to turn, they’ll do the right thing.”
That realization may lead to a more formalized process to begin bipartisan
negotiations in the Senate to put pressure on the House. The deal that passed on
Tuesday lifted the threat of tax increases that could have crippled the economy,
but in other ways it compounded near-term fiscal threats. The government reached
its statutory borrowing limit on Monday, giving Congress at best two to three
months to raise the debt ceiling or risk a debilitating default on federal debt.
Around the same time, a two-month delay in the institution of across-the-board
military and domestic spending cuts will lapse. Then, by the end of March, the
current stopgap spending law financing the federal government will end, raising
the specter of another government shutdown.
If House Republicans believe they can use those deadlines to extract concessions
from the president on spending cuts, the White House may go elsewhere for a
deal, Democrats say.
An official knowledgeable about the last negotiations said on Wednesday that the
president would use such a strategy only if he was convinced that House
Republican leaders would not or could not compromise. But in meeting with Senate
Democrats on Monday and House Democrats on Tuesday, Mr. Biden labored to
convince lawmakers that the White House had a way forward that would avoid
last-minute theatrics and would not entail a stream of compromises on party
principles, according to lawmakers who were there.
“One of the main concerns is, where do we go from here?” said Representative
Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, adding that Democrats feared that
compromises on tax increases for the rich in the deal approved on Tuesday would
lead to cuts in Social Security and Medicare in the next round of talks. “He has
a game plan for that.”
A senior Democrat said that game plan would start in the coming weeks, when Mr.
Obama addresses his agenda in his State of the Union address and lays out his
budget for the 2014 fiscal year, due in early February.
That opening bid should restart talks with Congress on an overarching agreement
that would lock in deficit reduction through additional revenue, changes to
entitlement programs and more spending cuts, to be worked out by the relevant
committees in Congress. But this time, those talks might start in the Senate.
House Republican aides said the past few weeks were unique and not indicative of
anything going forward. The president won re-election on a pledge to raise taxes
on income over $250,000. His mandate does not extend beyond that, one aide said.
Besides, officials in both parties warn, neither Mr. Reid nor Mr. McConnell will
want to lead on the difficult issues now in view. Mr. Reid was reluctant, at
best, about joining the Biden-McConnell talks.
And Mr. McConnell has made it clear that future deficit deals should be done
through “regular order” — Congressional committees, Senate and House debates and
open negotiations, not private talks. Officials in both parties worry that as
his 2014 re-election campaign gets closer, Mr. McConnell will be increasingly
reluctant to have his fingerprints on deals with the president.
Even if a Senate route can be institutionalized, Mr. Durbin said he doubted that
it would smooth the passage of bipartisan deals, given the difficulties Mr.
Boehner has getting his troops in line. “His anguish has a timetable. It goes
through phases and places that I don’t understand,” Mr. Durbin said of the
speaker. “And I am afraid every scary chapter has to play out every step of the
way before anything is resolved.”
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said the last-minute crunch that
produced the tax accord was necessary only because the Senate refused to act
earlier. The House passed legislation months ago to extend all the expiring
Bush-era tax cuts and to stop automatic military cuts by shifting them to
— The House early Saturday approved a huge package of spending cuts, slashing
more than $60 billion from domestic programs, foreign aid, and even some
military projects, as the new Republican majority made good on its pledge to
turn the grassroots fervor of the November elections into legislative action to
shrink the size and scope of government.
The vote, of 235 to 189, was a victory for the large, boisterous class of
fiscally conservative Republican freshmen that is fiercely determined to change
the ways of Washington and that forced party leaders to pursue far bigger cuts
than originally planned. It set the stage for a standoff with Senate Democrats
and the White House that each side has warned could lead to a shutdown of the
federal government early next month.
And it marked the opening salvo in what is likely to be a long, bitter clash of
philosophical ideas about fiscal policy, as Republicans repudiate the liberal,
Keynesian strategies that the Obama administration has relied on to navigate
through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
In Washington, the fight in the weeks ahead will focus on budget policy and the
looming need to raise the federal debt ceiling. But the push by Republicans for
spending cuts and new austerity is already shaking state capitals, including
Madison, Wis., and Columbus, Ohio, where labor unions have begun protesting
efforts to reduce benefits and weaken their collective bargaining rights.
The House approved its spending measure in the predawn darkness on Saturday
after four days and nights of free-wheeling floor debate — a veritable
ultra-marathon of legislating in which hundreds of amendments were put forward.
Republican leaders lost votes on some of those amendments, in what they said was
a testament to their commitment to allow a more open legislative process than
their recent predecessors.
Republicans only seemed to grow more excited as the final vote neared shortly
after 4:30 a.m.
“We have a mandate from the American people to cut spending,” declared
Representative Judy Biggert, Republican of Illinois.
Immediately after the vote, the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said in
a statement, “This week, for the first time in many years, the People’s House
was allowed to work its will — and the result was one of the largest spending
cuts in American history.” Mr. Boehner added, “We will not stop here in our
efforts to cut spending, not when we’re broke and Washington’s spending binge is
making it harder to create jobs.”
Just three Republicans opposed the bill, while 186 Democrats voted unanimously
The Republicans’ plan would quickly impose sharp spending reductions in nearly
every area of government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. But
Republicans will not have long to bask in the glory of their win, and their bill
has little or no chance of becoming law in its current form.
President Obama and Senate Democrats say the cuts would harm the fragile
economic recovery, and the White House had threatened to veto the bill even
before it was approved. The Democrats say Mr. Obama’s budget proposal, which
calls for a five-year freeze in many spending areas, is a more reasonable
approach. But Republicans have rejected it as insufficient.
Time is short. The stopgap measure now financing the government expires on March
4. And with Congress in recess next week, party leaders concede there is not
enough time to forge a deal, and that a short-term extension will be needed to
avert a shutdown of the government.
But with the rhetoric in the House only growing more strident over the four days
of debate, and politically-charged amendments dominating the action on Friday,
lawmakers and Washington at large have begun to face the possibility that even a
temporary accord will be difficult to achieve.
Mr. Boehner has said he would not agree to a short-term extension without added
cuts from spending, which is now being held generally at 2010 levels. Democrats,
meanwhile, have not shown any willingness to give ground, apparently betting
that Republicans will be held responsible for a shutdown as they were in 1995
during a standoff with the Clinton administration.
The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, late
Friday night put forward a temporary extension of the stopgap measure that would
maintain expenditures as they are now, generally at 2010 levels, and avert a
shutdown through March 31. But Republicans quickly dismissed it.
Democrats, for weeks, have warned that Republicans were risking a shutdown by
showing no flexibility in the spending debate.
“The last thing the American people need is for Congressional Republicans or
Democrats to draw a line in the sand that hinders keeping the government open,”
Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference earlier on Friday. “Closing our government
would mean our men and women in uniform wouldn’t receive their paychecks and
veterans would lose critical benefits. Seniors wouldn’t receive their Social
Security checks and essential functions from food safety inspection to airport
security could come to a halt.”
Aides to the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sought to
play down the possibility of a stalemate that would shutter the government but
accused Democrats of rooting for that outcome.
“Instead of cheering for a shutdown, Senate Democrats should join their
Republican colleagues in doing the hard work of cutting spending,” a spokesman
for Mr. McConnell, Don Stewart, said on Friday.
But Mr. McConnell showed no willingness to consider Ms. Pelosi’s proposed
temporary extension. “Freezing in place the current unsustainable spending
levels is simply unacceptable,” he said in a statement.
Even without a government shutdown, there were warnings that the Republican cuts
could cripple federal agencies. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for
instance, charged with carrying out a sweeping new financial regulation law,
will end up with $25 million less than last year, which was before the law was
In a letter to employees on Thursday, the Social Security Administration warned
of potential furloughs “given the potential of reduced Congressional
appropriations for the remainder of the fiscal year.”
The cuts even hit some programs that had support among Republican leaders,
including an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The House voted
to cancel the engine, achieving $450 million in short-term savings.
The Republicans who opposed the spending package were Representatives John
Campbell of California and Jeff Flake of Arizona, both of whom had advocated for
even bigger reductions, and Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina,
who often disagrees with his party.
Democrats on Friday suggested that even if Republican leaders want to avoid a
shutdown, Mr. Boehner might not be able to control his rank and file,
particularly the conservative freshmen who successfully led the charge for even
bigger spending reductions than Republican leaders initially proposed.
Up to the very end, the Republican Study Committee, a conservative bloc,
continued to push for even bigger cuts, putting forward an amendment on Friday
to slice $22 billion more. That amendment was defeated, as senior Republicans,
including the majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, and
veteran members of the Appropriations Committee, teamed up with Democrats to hit
But flush with enthusiasm on the fourth long day of debate, House Republicans on
Friday easily approved amendments to the spending package that would deny
government financing for Planned Parenthood, block money for the Democrats’ big
health care overhaul and bar new regulation of certain greenhouse gases.
The amendment to deny government funds to Planned Parenthood was put forward by
Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana. It was approved by a vote of
240 to 185.
Ms. Pelosi, who is a supporter of abortion rights, angrily denounced the vote as
a camouflaged effort by Republicans to prevent Americans from engaging in family
planning, which she said would actually undermine the Republicans’ larger goal
by leading to an increase in elective abortions.
“Perhaps we have to have a lesson in the birds and the bees around here for them
to understand that,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference. Mr. Pence, in a
statement, proclaimed a victory for opponents of abortion. “This afternoon’s
vote was a victory for taxpayers and a victory for life,” he said.
There were at least six different amendments approved to block federal agencies
from implementing the health care law or crucial components of the law.
For Republican freshmen, however, there was a potentially sobering lesson about
American democracy to be learned from the health care law that they hate so
much: after countless hours of drafting and floor debate, the health care bill
that Mr. Obama signed last year was the one written and approved by the Senate.
In much the same way, the spending measure being debated so feverishly on the
House floor has virtually no chance of being enacted into law, no matter how big
a victory celebration Republicans hold.
Just as the Senate ultimately controlled the health care debate, so too will it
control crucial negotiations in the current spending fight. Senate Republicans
have said they support the overall goals of their House counterparts but have
not committed to making identical cuts, and Democrats have a majority in the
In an understated reminder of his chamber’s role in the process, Senator Daniel
K. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii and chairman of the Appropriations Committee,
issued a statement expressing a desire for compromise.
“It is my sincere hope that all the parties will remain reasonable as we seek to
fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year,” he said.
“Neither house of Congress is in a position to dictate terms to the other, so I
remain hopeful that we will come to a sensible accommodation.”
Senate preparing to debate filibuster reform, now is a good time to consider a
similarly daunting challenge to democratic representation in the House: its
size. It’s been far too long since the House expanded to keep up with population
growth and, as a result, it has lost touch with the public and been overtaken by
Indeed, the lower chamber of Congress has had the same number of members for so
long that many Americans assume that its 435 seats are constitutionally
But that’s wrong: while the founders wanted to limit the size of the Senate,
they intended the House to expand based on population growth. Instead of setting
an absolute number, the Constitution merely limits the ratio of members to
population. “The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every
30,000,” the founders wrote. They were concerned, in other words, about having
too many representatives, not too few.
When the House met in 1787 it had 65 members, one for every 60,000 inhabitants
(including slaves as three-fifths of a person). For well over a century, after
each census Congress would pass a law increasing the size of the House.
But after the 1910 census, when the House grew from 391 members to 433 (two more
were added later when Arizona and New Mexico became states), the growth stopped.
That’s because the 1920 census indicated that the majority of Americans were
concentrating in cities, and nativists, worried about of the power of
“foreigners,” blocked efforts to give them more representatives.
By the time the next decade rolled around, members found themselves reluctant to
dilute their votes, and the issue was never seriously considered again.
The result is that Americans today are numerically the worst-represented group
of citizens in the country’s history. The average House member speaks for about
700,000 Americans. In contrast, in 1913 he represented roughly 200,000, a ratio
that today would mean a House with 1,500 members — or 5,000 if we match the
ratio the founders awarded themselves.
This disparity increases the influence of lobbyists and special interests: the
more constituents one has, the easier it is for money to outshine individual
voices. And it means that representatives have a harder time connecting with the
people back in their districts.
What’s needed, then, is a significant increase in the size of the House by
expanding the number, and shrinking the size, of districts. Doing so would make
campaigns cheaper, the political value of donations lower and the importance of
local mobilizing much greater.
Smaller districts would also end the two-party deadlock. Orange County, Calif.,
might elect a Libertarian, while Cambridge, Mass., might pick a candidate from
the Green Party.
Moreover, with additional House members we’d likely see more citizen-legislators
and fewer lifers. In places like New York or Chicago, we would cross at least
one Congressional district just walking a few blocks to the grocery store. Our
representatives would be our neighbors, people who better understood the lives
and concerns of average Americans.
More districts would likewise mean more precision in distributing them
equitably, especially in low-population states. Today the lone Wyoming
representative covers about 500,000 people, while her lone counterpart in
Delaware reports to 900,000.
The increase would also mean more elected officials working on the country’s
business, reducing the reliance on unaccountable staffers. Most of the House’s
work is through committees, overseeing and checking government agencies.
With more people in Congress, House committee members could see to this critical
business themselves — and therefore be more influential, since a phone call from
an actual member is a lot more effective than a request from the committee
True, more members means more agendas, legislation and debates. But Internet
technology already provides effective low-cost management solutions, from Google
Documents to streaming interactive video to online voting.
The biggest obstacle is Congress itself. Such a change would require the noble
act — routine before World War I but unheard of since — of representatives
voting to diminish their own relative power.
So if such reform is to happen, it will have to be driven by grassroots
movements. Luckily, we are living in just such a moment: the one thing Move On
and the Tea Party can agree on is that the Washington status quo needs to
change. So far this year, that has meant shrinking government. But in this case,
the best solution might just be to make government — or at least the House of
Representatives — bigger.
is a professor of sociology,
medicine and public policy
at New York University
and the author of “Elsewhere, U.S.A.”
Jacqueline Stevens is a professor of
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY
captured control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday and expanded their
voice in the Senate, riding a wave of voter discontent as they dealt a setback
to President Obama just two years after his triumphal victory.
A Republican resurgence, propelled by deep economic worries and a forceful
opposition to the Democratic agenda of health care and government spending,
delivered defeats to House Democrats from the Northeast to the South and across
the Midwest. The tide swept aside dozens of lawmakers, regardless of their
seniority or their voting records, upending the balance of power for the second
half of Mr. Obama’s term.
But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, narrowly prevailed and
his party hung onto control by winning hard-fought contests in California,
Delaware, Connecticut and West Virginia. Republicans picked up at least six
Democratic seats, including the one formerly held by Mr. Obama, and the party
will welcome Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky to their ranks,
two candidates who were initially shunned by the establishment but beloved by
the Tea Party movement.
“The American people’s voice was heard at the ballot box,” said Representative
John A. Boehner of Ohio, who is positioned to become the next speaker of the
House. “We have real work to do, and this is not the time for celebration.”
The president, who watched the election returns with a small set of advisers at
the White House, called Mr. Boehner shortly after midnight to offer his
congratulations and to talk about the way forward as Washington prepares for
divided government. Republicans won at least 56 seats, not including those from
some Western states where ballots were still being counted, surpassing the 52
seats the party won in the sweep of 1994.
The most expensive midterm election campaign in the nation’s history, fueled by
a raft of contributions from outside interest groups and millions in donations
to candidates in both parties, played out across a wide battleground that
stretched from Alaska to Maine. The Republican tide swept into statehouse races,
too, with Democrats poised to lose the majority of governorships, particularly
those in key presidential swing states, like Ohio, where Gov. Ted Strickland was
One after another, once-unassailable Democrats like Senator Russ Feingold of
Wisconsin, Representatives Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South
Carolina, Rick Boucher of Virginia and Chet Edwards of Texas fell to
little-known Republican challengers.
“Voters sent a message that change has not happened fast enough,” said Tim
Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Republicans did not achieve a perfect evening, losing races in several states
they had once hoped to win, including the Senate contests in Delaware and
Connecticut, because some candidates supported by the Tea Party movement knocked
out establishment candidates to win their nominations. But they did score
notable victories in some tight races, like Pat Toomey’s Senate run in
Senator Reid said in a speech that he was “more determined than ever” after his
victory. “I know what it’s like to get back on your feet.”
The outcome on Tuesday was nothing short of a remarkable comeback for
Republicans two years after they suffered a crushing defeat in the White House
and four years after Democrats swept control of the House and Senate. It places
the party back in the driver’s seat in terms of policy, posing new challenges to
Mr. Obama as he faces a tough two years in his term, but also for Republicans —
led by Mr. Boehner — as he suddenly finds himself in a position of
responsibility, rather than being simply the outsider.
In the House, Republicans found victories in most corners of the country,
including five seats in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio, at least three in Florida,
Illinois and Virginia and two in Georgia. Democrats braced for the prospect of
historic defeats, more than the 39 seats the Republicans needed to win control.
Republicans reached their majority by taking seats east of the Mississippi even
before late results flowed in from farther West.
Throughout the evening, in race after race, Republican challengers defeated
Democratic incumbents, despite being at significant fund-raising disadvantages.
Republican-oriented independent groups invariably came to the rescue, helping
level of the playing field, including in Florida’s 24th Congressional District,
in which Sandy Adams defeated Representative Suzanne Kosmas; Virginia’s 9th
Congressional District, where Mr. Boucher, a 14-term incumbent, lost to Morgan
Griffith; and Texas’s 17th Congressional District, in which Mr. Edwards, who was
seeking his 11th term, succumbed to Bill Flores.
Democrats argued that the Republican triumph was far from complete, particularly
in the Senate, pointing to the preservation of Mr. Reid and other races. In
Delaware, Chris Coons defeated Christine O’Donnell, whose candidacy became a
symbol of the unorthodox political candidates swept onto the ballot in
Republican primary contests. In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat,
triumphed over an insurgent Republican rival to fill the seat held for a
half-century by Senator Robert C. Byrd. And in California, Senator Barbara Boxer
overcame a vigorous challenge from Carly Fiorina, a Republican.
But Democrats conceded that their plans to increase voter turnout did not meet
expectations, party strategists said, and extraordinary efforts that Mr. Obama
made in the final days of the campaign appeared to have borne little fruit.
The president flew to Charlottesville, Va., on Friday evening, for instance, in
hopes of rallying Democrats to support Representative Tom Perriello, a freshman
who supported every piece of the administration’s agenda, but he was defeated
despite the president’s appeals to Democrats in a state that he carried two
In governors’ races, Republicans won several contests in the nation’s middle.
They held onto governorships in Texas, Nebraska and South Dakota, and had seized
seats now occupied by Democrats in Tennessee, Michigan and Kansas. Sam
Brownback, a United States Senator and Republican, easily took the Kansas post
that Mark Parkinson, a former Republican turned Democrat, is leaving behind.
Though Democrats, who before the election held 26 governors’ seats compared to
24 for the Republicans, were expected to face losses, there were also bright
spots. In New York, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo easily defeated the
Republican, Carl P. Paladino, even as Republicans were expected to pick up seats
in the state legislature and the congressional delegation. In Massachusetts,
Gov. Deval Patrick won a second term.
As the election results rolled in, with Republicans picking up victories shortly
after polls closed in states across the South, East and the Midwest, the House
speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other party leaders made urgent appeals through
television interviews that there was still time for voters in other states to
cast their ballots.
But the mood in Democratic quarters was glum, with few early signs of optimism
in House or Senate races that were called early in the evening. Surveys that
were conducted with voters across the country also provided little sense of hope
for Democrats, with Republicans gaining a majority of independents,
college-educated people and suburbanites — all groups that were part of the
coalition of voters who supported Mr. Obama two years ago.
“We’ve come to take our government back,” Mr. Paul told cheering supporters who
gathered in Bowling Green, Ky. “They say that the U.S. Senate is the world’s
most deliberative body. I’m going to ask them to deliberate on this: The
American people are unhappy with what’s going on in Washington.”
The election was a referendum on President Obama and the Democratic agenda,
according to interviews with voters that were conducted for the National
Election Pool, a consortium of television networks and The Associated Press,
with a wide majority of the electorate saying that the country was seriously off
track. Nearly nine in 10 voters said they were worried about the economy and
about 4 in 10 said their family’s situation had worsened in the last two years.
The surveys found that voters were even more dissatisfied with Congress now than
they were in 2006, when Democrats reclaimed control from the Republicans.
Preliminary results also indicated an electorate far more conservative than four
years ago, a sign of stronger turnout by people leaning toward Republicans.
Most voters said they believed Mr. Obama’s policies would hurt the country in
the long run, rather than help it, and a large share of voters said they
supported the Tea Party movement, which has backed insurgent candidates all
across the country.
The Republican winds began blowing back in January when Democrats lost the seat
long held by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, with the victory of
Scott P. Brown serving as a motivating force for the budding Tea Party movement
and a burst of inspiration for Republican candidates across the country to step
forward and challenge Democrats everywhere.
On Tuesday, the president did not leave the grounds of the White House, taking a
respite from days of campaigning across the country, so he could meet with a
circle of top advisers to plot a way forward for his administration and his own
looming re-election campaign. The White House said Mr. Obama would hold a news
conference on Wednesday to address the governing challenges that await the new
“My hope is that I can cooperate with Republicans,” Mr. Obama said in a radio
interview on Tuesday. “But obviously, the kinds of compromises that will be made
depends on what Capitol Hill looks like — who’s in charge.”
But even as the president was poised to offer a fresh commitment to
bipartisanship, he spent the final hours of the midterm campaign trying to
persuade Democrats in key states to take time to vote. From the Oval Office, Mr.
Obama conducted one radio interview after another, urging black voters in
particular to help preserve the party’s majority and his agenda.
“How well I’m able to move my agenda forward over the next couple of years is
going to depend on folks back home having my back,” Mr. Obama said in an
interview with the Chicago radio station WGCI, in which he made an unsuccessful
appeal for voters to keep his former Senate seat in Democratic hands.
There was little Democratic terrain across the country that seemed immune to
Republican encroachment, with many of the most competitive races being waged in
states that Mr. Obama carried strongly only two years ago. From the president’s
home state of Illinois to neighboring Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio — all
places that were kind to the Democratic ticket in 2008 — Republicans worked
aggressively to find new opportunities.
For all the drama surrounding the final day of the midterm campaign, more than
19 million Americans had voted before Tuesday, a trend that has grown with each
election cycle over the last decade, as 32 states now offer a way for voters to
practice democracy in far more convenient ways than simply waiting in line on
June 27, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN M. BRODER
WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation on Friday intended to address
global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.
The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant
to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The
legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to
profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power
generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.
The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also
established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a
new climate change treaty begin later this year.
At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on
overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers
and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves.
The cap would grow tighter over the years, pushing up the price of emissions and
presumably driving industry to find cleaner ways of making energy.
President Obama hailed the House passage of the bill as “a bold and necessary
step.” He said in a statement that he looked forward to Senate action that would
send a bill to his desk “so that we can say, at long last, that this was the
moment when we decided to confront America’s energy challenge and reclaim
Mr. Obama had lobbied wavering lawmakers in recent days, and Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore had made personal
appeals to dozens of fence-sitters.
As difficult as House passage proved, it is just the beginning of the energy and
climate debate in Congress. The issue now moves to the Senate, where political
divisions and regional differences are even more stark.
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, a co-sponsor of the
bill, called the vote a “decisive and historic action” that would position the
United States as a leader in energy efficiency and technology.
But the legislation, a patchwork of compromises, falls far short of what many
European governments and environmentalists have said is needed to avert the
worst effects of global warming. And it pitted liberal Democrats from the East
and West Coasts against more conservative Democrats from areas dependent on coal
for electricity and on heavy manufacturing for jobs.
While some environmentalists enthusiastically supported the legislation, others,
including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, opposed it. Industry officials
were split, with the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National
Association of Manufacturers opposing the bill and some of the nation’s biggest
corporations, including Dow Chemical and Ford, backing it.
Republican leaders called the legislation a national energy tax and predicted
that those who voted for the measure would pay a heavy price at the polls next
“No matter how you doctor it or tailor it,” said Representative Joe Pitts,
Republican of Pennsylvania, “it is a tax.”
Only eight Republicans voted for the bill, which runs to more than 1,300 pages.
Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, stalled the vote by
using his privilege as a party leader to consume just over an hour by reading
from a 300-page amendment added in the early hours of Friday.
Apart from its domestic implications, the legislation represents a first step
toward measurable cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that administration officials
can point to when the United States joins other nations in negotiating a new
global climate change treaty later this year. For nearly 20 years, the United
States has resisted mandatory limits on heat-trapping emissions.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was in Washington on Friday to meet
with Mr. Obama, strongly endorsed the bill even though it fell short of European
goals for reducing the emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Mrs. Merkel, a longtime advocate of strong curbs on emissions, has been pushing
the United States to take a leading role before the climate negotiations, set
for December in Copenhagen.
After meeting with Mr. Obama, she said she had seen a “sea change” in the United
States on climate policy that she could not have imagined a year ago when
President George W. Bush was in office.
The House legislation reflects a series of concessions necessary to attract the
support of Democrats from different regions and with different ideologies. In
the months of horse-trading before the vote Friday, the bill’s targets for
emissions of heat-trapping gases were weakened, its mandate for renewable
electricity was scaled back, and incentives for industries were sweetened.
The bill’s sponsors were making deals on the House floor right up until the time
of the vote. They set aside money for new energy research and a hurricane study
center in Florida.
The final bill has a goal of reducing greenhouse gases in the United States to
17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by midcentury.
When the program is scheduled to begin, in 2012, the estimated price of a permit
to emit a ton of carbon dioxide will be about $13. That is projected to rise
steadily as emission limits come down, but the bill contains a provision to
prevent costs from rising too quickly in any one year.
The bill would grant a majority of the permits free in the early years of the
program, to keep costs low. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the
average American household would pay an additional $175 a year in energy costs
by 2020 as a result of the provision, while the poorest households would receive
rebates that would lower their annual energy costs by $40.
Several House members expressed concern about the market to be created in carbon
allowances, saying it posed the same risks as those in markets in other kinds of
derivatives. Regulation of such markets would be divided among the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission.
The bill also sets a national standard of 20 percent for the production of
renewable electricity by 2020, although a third of that could be met with
efficiency measures rather than renewable energy sources like solar, wind and
It also devotes billions of dollars to new energy projects and subsidies for
low-carbon agricultural practices, research on cleaner coal and electric vehicle
Mr. Gore, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming, posted
an appeal on his blog for passage of the legislation.
“This bill doesn’t solve every problem,” Mr. Gore said, “but passage today means
that we build momentum for the debate coming up in the Senate and negotiations
for the treaty talks in December which will put in place a global solution to
the climate crisis. There is no backup plan.”
The New York Times
By ROBERT PEAR
— The House on Wednesday passed a $410 billion omnibus spending bill packed with
pet projects requested by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The 245-to-178 vote came just a week after President Obama signed one of the
largest spending bills in the nation’s history, a $787 billion measure meant to
rejuvenate a sluggish economy.
The new bill, a reflection of Democratic priorities, increases spending on
domestic programs by an average of 8 percent in the current fiscal year, which
began in October.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama is scheduled to send his budget for the next fiscal year
to Congress. He did not take a formal position on the bill passed by the House.
“It’s a big document,” a White House official said. “We are still reviewing it.”
Republicans, however, did not mince words in describing the spending bill as
wasteful. And one watchdog group said the bill provided nearly $8 billion for
more than 8,500 pet projects favored by lawmakers, including $1.7 million for a
honey bee laboratory in Weslaco, Tex.; $346,000 for research on apple fire
blight in Michigan and New York; and $1.5 million for work on grapes and grape
products, including wine.
Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana, said Mr. Obama’s call for
fiscal responsibility, in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday,
was “sandwiched between two wasteful spending bills.”
Representative Mark Steven Kirk, Republican of Illinois, pointed out that the
new bill came just two days after the White House held a forum to promote fiscal
The legislation includes nine of the regular appropriations bills for this
fiscal year. Unable to reach agreement with President George W. Bush last year,
Congress provided most domestic agencies and programs with a short-term infusion
of cash, which runs out at the end of next week.
Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate have already negotiated and
agreed on the contents of the new legislation. But conservative Republican
senators could try to amend the bill, to pare it down or delete earmarks. If
they succeed, the bill would need to go back to the House before it could be
presented to the president.
The bill increases budgets for the Departments of Education, Health and Human
Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation, among others.
Over all, it provides $19 billion more than Mr. Bush requested for the same
agencies and $31 billion more than what they got in the last fiscal year.
Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the bill “turns the
page once and for all on the last eight years.”
Democrats boasted that they had not included earmarks in the economic stimulus
bill, but lawmakers of both parties relished the opportunity to stuff the new
bill with pet projects.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, counted more than 8,500
“Congressionally designated projects” in the bill and said the cost of these
earmarks totaled $7.7 billion., up 3.4 percent from last year.
Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said it was unseemly for
Congress to finance so many pet projects at a time when “the Justice Department
is investigating the connection between earmarks and campaign contributions.”
By a vote of 226 to 182, the House killed a proposal by Mr. Flake calling on the
House ethics committee to investigate such connections.
Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the
Appropriations Committee, said earmarks were a small part of the bill and had
been fully disclosed. Without the earmarks, he said, “the White House and its
anonymous bureaucrats” would control all spending.
Moreover, Democrats said 40 percent of the spending on earmarks went to projects
that had been requested by Republicans.
Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the senior Republican on the
Appropriations Committee, said that to understand the magnitude of new federal
spending, one must look at the money in the omnibus bill and the money for the
same agencies in the economic stimulus law, which together total $680 billion.
That sum is 80 percent higher than spending for those agencies last year, he
A number of policy changes are included in the bill. It would, for example, make
it easier for Americans to visit immediate relatives in Cuba. And it would
forbid Mexican trucks to operate outside certain commercial zones along the
border with the United States. The Teamsters union, which supported Mr. Obama’s
election last year, had sought the restriction.
Among the pet projects is one to help producers of genuine pork, in contrast to
the Congressional variety. The bill includes $1.8 million to conduct research in
Iowa on “swine odor and manure management.”
The legislation includes $173,000 for research on asparagus production in
Washington State; $206,000 for wool research in Montana, Texas and Wyoming; and
$209,000 for efforts to improve blueberry production in Georgia.
It also includes $208,000 to control a weed known as cogongrass in Mississippi;
$1.2 million to control cormorants in Michigan, Mississippi, New York and
Vermont; $1 million to control Mormon crickets in Utah; and $162,000 to control
rodents in Hawaii.
Democrats also earmarked money for the presidential libraries of three
Democrats: Franklin D. Roosevelt ($17.5 million), John F. Kennedy ($22 million)
and Lyndon B. Johnson ($2 million).
The bill even includes earmarks requested by some lawmakers who have left
Congress, like Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, and
Representative William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana.
House Republicans have been divided on the merits of earmarks. Some, like Mr.
Flake and the minority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, do not request earmarks.
But other Republicans, including many on the Appropriations Committee, do
request such projects.
In the Republican response to Mr. Obama’s speech on Tuesday night, Gov. Bobby
Jindal of Louisiana said Republicans lost the public’s trust in recent years
because they “went along with earmarks and big government spending in
The New York Times
By ROBERT PEAR
— President Bush often denounces the propensity of Congress to earmark money for
pet projects. But in his new budget, Mr. Bush has requested money for thousands
of similar projects.
He asked for money to build fish hatcheries, eradicate agricultural pests,
conduct research, pave highways, dredge harbors and perform many other specific
The details are buried deep in the president’s budget, just as most
Congressional earmarks are buried in obscure committee reports that accompany
Thus, for example, the president requested $330 million to deal with plant pests
like the emerald ash borer, the light brown apple moth and the sirex woodwasp.
He sought $800,000 for the Neosho National Fish Hatchery in Missouri and $1.5
million for a waterway named in honor of former Senator J. Bennett Johnston, a
At the same time, Mr. Bush requested $894,000 for an air traffic control tower
in Kalamazoo, Mich.; $12 million for a parachute repair shop at the American air
base in Aviano, Italy; and $6.5 million for research in Wyoming on the
“fundamental properties of asphalt.”
He sought $3 million for a forest conservation project in Minnesota, $2.1
million for a neutrino detector at the South Pole and $28 million for General
Electric and Siemens to do research on hydrogen-fuel turbines.
The projects, itemized in thousands of pages of budget documents submitted last
week to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, show that the debate
over earmarks is much more complex than the “all or nothing” choice usually
presented to the public. The president and Congress both want to direct money to
specific projects, but often disagree over the merits of particular items.
The White House contends that when the president requests money for a project,
it has gone through a rigorous review — by the agency, the White House or both —
using objective criteria.
Congressional leaders said they would focus more closely on items requested by
the president this year. “The executive branch should be held accountable for
its own earmark practices,” said the House Republican leader, Representative
John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats agreed that “the large number
of presidential earmarks deserve the same scrutiny and restraint” as those that
originated in Congress.
Mr. Bush has often derided Congressional earmarks as “special interest items”
that waste taxpayer money and undermine trust in government. Congress, he said,
included more than 11,700 earmarks totaling almost $17 billion in spending bills
for the current fiscal year.
But some of those earmarks were similar or identical to ones included in the
2009 budget that Mr. Bush sent Congress last week. For example, Senator Richard
J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, obtained an earmark of $1.5 million
last year to deal with the emerald ash borer, a beetle that attacks trees, lawns
and crops. Mr. Bush now wants more money to fight that insect.
A similar pattern is evident at the Bureau of Reclamation, an Interior
Department agency that provides water and power in 17 states. Congress and the
White House both support construction of a huge water project known as Mni
Wiconi, which would deliver water from the Missouri River to rural South Dakota.
At the behest of South Dakota lawmakers, Congress earmarked $38 million for the
project last year. In its budget justification for 2009, the bureau requests
$779 million for more than 150 specific projects, including $26 million more for
the one in South Dakota.
Similarly, the Bush administration is requesting money for a water project near
the Nueces River in South Texas — the same project that benefited from a
bipartisan Congressional earmark last year.
In effect, the president accepted some Congressional earmarks as worthy of
continued federal support. But he rejected many more and sought no money for
them in 2009.
The White House defines “earmarks” in a way that applies only to projects
designated by Congress, not to those requested by the administration.
“Earmarks,” as defined by the White House, “are funds provided by Congress for
projects or programs where the Congressional direction (in bill or report
language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or
specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the
executive branch to properly manage funds.”
Sean M. Kevelighan, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and
Budget, said: “The administration’s budget proposals are available for any
taxpayer to see. We submit a justification for each item. That’s very different
from what happens on Capitol Hill, where items are dropped into legislation at
the last minute, for no rhyme or reason other than the seniority of a member of
Democrats sometimes say the Bush administration has approved projects to help
its political allies, but such assertions are hard to prove. In the 2004
campaign, administration officials raced around the country handing out money
for federal programs, including some that Mr. Bush had tried to cut or
Senator John McCain of Arizona, the leading candidate for the Republican
presidential nomination, is winning support with a different tactic. Mr. McCain
regularly receives cheers and applause when he declares, “I will not sign a bill
with earmarks in it, any earmarks in it.”
It is virtually impossible to determine the dollar value of items requested by
the president because they are scattered through voluminous budget documents
prepared by dozens of federal offices and agencies, and the administration does
not publish comprehensive lists, as Congress did last year for the first time.
Administration officials say that many projects in the president’s budget —
though they may look like Congressional earmarks — were evaluated as part of a
coherent program to address some national need, like pest eradication or flood
Mr. Bush’s budget says, for example, that the Army Corps of Engineers uses
“performance-based guidelines” to set priorities for navigation and flood
control projects, ensuring that benefits will outweigh costs.
But the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress,
found that the corps’s studies of proposed projects were “fraught with errors,
mistakes and miscalculations” that tended to overstate the benefits and
understate the costs.
When Transportation Department officials unveiled their 2009 budget this week,
they boasted of more than two dozen new projects, and they said they had
carefully weighed factors like “benefits per passenger mile.”
The president requested $125,000 for a new rapid bus line on Troost Avenue in
Kansas City, Mo., and $11 million for bus-only lanes along parts of Wilshire
Boulevard in Los Angeles.
“We are putting tax dollars where they will move the greatest number of people,
so taxpayers get a good return on their investment,” said James S. Simpson,
administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.
Criticism of earmarks has been a constant theme in the Bush administration.
Within three months of taking office, Mr. Bush asked Congress to kill many of
the earmarks enacted into law at the end of the Clinton administration.
In his State of the Union address last year, Mr. Bush complained that 90 percent
of Congressional earmarks were concealed in committee reports.
“You didn’t vote them into law,” Mr. Bush told Congress. “I didn’t sign them
into law. Yet they’re treated as if they have the force of law.”
On Jan. 29, Mr. Bush ordered federal officials to “ignore any future earmark
that is not voted on and included in a law approved by Congress.”
The president submits legislative language to Congress for every appropriations
bill, but most of his project requests are not found there. They are buried in
thick documents that carry titles like “Budget Estimates” or “Justification of
Estimates for Appropriations Committees.”
The New York Times
By ROBERT PEAR
— President Bush is unlikely to defy Congress on spending billions of dollars
earmarked for pet projects, but he will probably insist that lawmakers provide
more justification for such earmarks in the future, administration officials
Fiscal conservatives in Congress and budget watchdogs have been urging Mr. Bush
to issue an executive order instructing agencies to disregard the many earmarks
listed just in committee reports, not in the text of legislation.
More than 90 percent of earmarks are specified that way, not actually included
in the texts. White House officials say such earmarks are not legally binding on
Congressional leaders of both parties, who are scheduled to meet on Tuesday with
the president, said Mr. Bush would provoke a huge outcry on Capitol Hill if he
ignored those earmarks.
Lawmakers, including the House Republican whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri, have
cautioned the White House that a furor over earmarks could upend Mr. Bush’s
hopes for cooperation with Congress on other issues, including efforts to revive
Moreover, Republicans shudder at the possibility that a Democratic president
might reject all their earmarks.
In effect, the White House is avoiding a clash with Congress over specific
projects while preserving the president’s ability to demand a further reduction
in earmarks generally.
A band of Republican lawmakers led by Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona and
Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina has attacked
earmarks, saying they waste money and corrupt the legislative process. But a
larger number of lawmakers avidly seek them and boast of success in securing
money for constituents. Republicans received about 40 percent of the earmarks in
the spending bills for 2008.
A new tally by the White House Office of Management and Budget shows that the
2008 spending bills signed by Mr. Bush include more than 11,700 earmarks,
totaling $16.9 billion. By the White House count, the number was down 1,754 from
2005, and the amount of money was down $2.1 billion, or 11 percent.
Using different definitions, some groups have come up with different figures,
showing a larger decline in the dollar value of earmarks. Ryan Alexander,
president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog,
estimates the reduction at 25 percent, half the goal set by Mr. Bush.
The earmarks for this year set aside money for museums and bicycle trails,
control of agricultural pests like the emerald ash borer beetle and aid to
specific military contractors producing items like missiles, munitions and
“merino wool boot socks.”
Mr. Bush recently mocked earmarks for a prison museum in Kansas and a sailing
school in California.
Nearly one-fifth of the earmarks and more than one-third of the money were in
the Defense Department appropriations bill.
On Dec. 20, Mr. Bush instructed Jim Nussle, director of the Office of Management
and Budget, to “review options for dealing with the wasteful spending” in
At the same time, 19 groups urged Mr. Bush to shut “the Congressional favor
factory” by directing agencies to disregard earmarks tucked into committee
“Such an action is within your constitutional powers and would strike a blow for
fiscal responsibility,” said a letter from the groups, which included the
American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union and Taxpayers for
The groups pressed their case in a recent meeting with Barry Jackson, a top aide
to the president, but they said they received no assurances.
In his State of the Union message last year, Mr. Bush said: “Over 90 percent of
earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate. They are dropped
into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my
desk. You didn’t vote them into law. I didn’t sign them into law. Yet, they’re
treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this
White House lawyers have found many court decisions holding, as the Supreme
Court said in 2005, that “restrictive language contained in committee reports is
not legally binding.”
The comptroller general, the nation’s top auditor, and the Congressional
Research Service agree with that position, as a matter of law. But in setting
forth that view in a 1993 case, the Supreme Court observed, “An agency’s
decision to ignore Congressional expectations may expose it to grave political
Mr. Blunt, the Republican whip, said that any White House actions were likely to
be prospective, setting standards for future earmarks. The purpose, he said,
would be to ensure that a project “meets the criteria the taxpayers want it to
meet before the money is distributed.”
Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a coalition of
taxpayer groups, said he expected the White House to establish rules and
procedures to screen out “the most egregious earmarks.”
The sponsor of an earmark might, for example, be required to provide a written
justification, including requests for the money from local officials,
universities or companies that would benefit.
Presidential candidates should be asked whether they would keep such standards,
Mr. Norquist said.
Even in Alaska, long dependent on federal largess, officials are trying to wean
the state off earmarks. In her State of the State address last week, Gov. Sarah
Palin, a Republican, said, “We cannot and must not rely so heavily on federal
College, a small Benedictine college southeast of Pittsburgh, wanted to realign
a two-lane state road serving the campus. But the state transportation
department did not have the money.
So St. Vincent tried Washington instead. The college hired a professional
lobbyist in 2004 and, later that year, two paragraphs were tucked into federal
appropriation bills with the help of Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of
Pennsylvania, awarding $4 million solely for that project. College officials
said the work would improve the safety and appearance of the road into the
campus, which President Bush visited two days ago to give the college’s
Religious organizations have long competed for federal contracts to provide
social services, and they have tried to influence Congress on matters of moral
and social policy — indeed, most major denominations have a presence in
Washington to monitor such legislation. But an analysis of federal records shows
that some religious organizations are also hiring professional lobbyists to
pursue the narrowly tailored individual appropriations known as earmarks.
A New York Times analysis shows that the number of earmarks for religious
organizations, while small compared with the overall number, have increased
sharply in recent years. From 1989 to January 2007, Congress approved almost 900
earmarks for religious groups, totaling more than $318 million, with more than
half of them granted in the Congressional session that included the 2004
presidential election. By contrast, the same analysis showed fewer than 60
earmarks for faith-based groups in the Congressional session that covered 1997
Earmarks are individual federal grants that bypass the normal appropriations and
competitive-bidding procedures. They have been blamed for feeding the budget
deficit and have figured in several Capitol Hill bribery scandals, prompting
recent calls for reform from White House and Congressional leaders.
They are distinct from the competitive, peer-reviewed grants that have
traditionally been used by religious institutions and charities to obtain money
for social services.
As the number of faith-based earmarks grew, the period from 1998 to 2005 saw a
tripling in the number of religious organizations listed as clients of
Washington lobbying firms and a doubling in the amount they paid for services,
according to an analysis by The Times.
Sometimes the earmarks benefited programs aimed at helping others. There have
been numerous earmarks totaling $5.4 million for World Vision, the global
humanitarian ministry, to conduct job training, youth mentoring and gang
prevention programs. Another earmark provided $150,000 to help St. Jerome’s
Church in the Bronx build a community center, and Fuller Theological Seminary, a
leading evangelical seminary in Pasadena, Calif., received $2 million to study
gambling and juvenile violence.
But many of the earmarks address the prosaic institutional needs of some
specific religious group, like the ones giving the Mormon Church control over
two parcels of federal land of historic significance to the church, transferring
10 acres of federal forest land to a small church in Florida, allowing a
historic church surrounded by a federal park in Ohio to use public land to
expand its parking space, and handing several acres of government land over to a
Catholic college in New Hampshire. (An interactive database of almost 900
faith-based earmarks can be found at nytimes.com.)
Earmarks have also helped finance new buildings on religious college campuses,
including a fitness center at Malone College, a small evangelical Christian
liberal arts college in Canton, Ohio.
The $1 million that helped build the center came from an earmark by
Representative Ralph S. Regula, whose district includes the college, according
to Suzanne Thomas, director of communications for the college. Another earmark
helped pay for a new school of nursing, she said.
In seeking the earmarks, the college hired a Washington lobbyist “to help us
with a ‘boots on the ground’ program of meeting with various Congressional and
Senate leaders,” Ms. Thomas said, noting that many private colleges are
enlisting similar lobbying help.
Several scholars who wrote books about religious advocacy work in Washington in
the 1980s and early 1990s say the push for earmarks identified in The Times
analysis represents a sharp departure from the lobbying strategies traditionally
associated with religious groups. One of them, Allen D. Hertzke, a professor at
the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said, “I never heard religious lobbyists
talk about earmarks.” That view was echoed by Daniel J.<133>B. Hofrenning, a
professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.: “Getting heavily into the
pork-barrel politics of earmarks — that is a distinctive change.”
It is a shift that some religious advocates find worrisome.
“Earmarks are bad public policy,” said Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal
Office of Government Relations in Washington. “If earmarks are not in the public
interest, I would wonder why the faith community would be involved in them. It
would hurt our credibility.”
James E. Winkler, who has represented the United Methodist General Board of
Church and Society since 2000, says he fears that the pursuit of earmarks could
muffle religion’s moral voice. “For example, we’ve opposed the war since day
one,” he said. “But what if an earmark benefiting us — money for a Methodist
seminary, perhaps — is attached to the supplemental appropriation for the war?
You can see how very serious moral conflicts could arise.”
The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National
Association of Evangelicals, said that while religious organizations should be
able to compete for federal money, such groups “shouldn’t do that through
earmarks.” He explained, “As good stewards of the public trust, we have to be
transparent and above board — and earmarks are not transparent or above board.”
And, constitutional lawyers point out, because the First Amendment prohibits
direct government financing of religious activities, earmarks that steer money
to religious groups pose constitutional risks. Indeed, several faith-based
earmarks were successfully challenged as unconstitutional long after Congress
Paul Marcone, a lobbyist and former Capitol Hill staff member who specializes in
getting earmarks for nonprofit clients, disputes the notion that religious
groups should not pursue them.
“Despite what the critics say, there is far more transparency in earmarks than
in the discretionary grant process,” Mr. Marcone said. “It’s the difference
between unelected bureaucrats using a peer-review process and an elected member
Applying for competitive government grants “is a very frustrating process,” Mr.
Marcone added. “You might score very high and have an innovative program, and
still not get funded.” By contrast, he said, all his nonprofit clients who
sought earmarks received grants within two years of signing on with him.
The lobbying firm to which Malone College and dozens of other religious
organizations have turned is Mr. Marcone’s former employer, the Russ Reid
Company, based in Pasadena, Calif. Since 1964, Russ Reid has provided
direct-mail and other fund-raising services to some of the nation’s largest
charities, like World Vision and Habitat for Humanity.
But it also maintains a government relations office in Washington, directed by
Mark D. McIntyre, a former Congressional press secretary and a vice presidential
speechwriter in the Reagan administration. “If your focus is on how faith-based
organizations are getting earmarks, I’m your guy,” Mr. McIntyre said in a brief
telephone conversation last month. But the company subsequently canceled an
interview with Mr. McIntyre and declined to comment further about his work.
Among the dozens of institutions for which Russ Reid has helped obtain earmarks
are several faith-based rescue missions, including the Detroit Rescue Mission
Ministries, the Light of Life Mission in Pittsburgh and the Gospel Rescue
Ministries of Washington; a host of religious colleges and seminaries, including
Fuller seminary and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif., which got a
$750,000 earmark for its new science center; and various Catholic ministries,
including the specialized children’s educational programs of the Holy Family
Institute in Pittsburgh.
Russ Reid has also lobbied for earmarks for World Vision, the humanitarian
service ministry. Seeking earmarks is a departure for World Vision. “On the
international side, we do not do earmark advocacy,” said Joseph Mettimano,
director of public policy and advocacy. Instead of competing for an earmarked
slice of money, the charity joins with other aid organizations to lobby for a
bigger pie of foreign aid, he explained, adding that similar solidarity on the
domestic front could “absolutely” be beneficial.
World Vision is evaluating whether to continue to seek earmarks, according to
Romanita Hairston, its vice president for domestic programs. A main concern is
the cost-effectiveness of such financing, but the controversy over earmarking is
also being weighed, she said.
Among the beneficiaries of Mr. Marcone’s lobbying was the Silver Ring Thing, a
faith-based abstinence program for teenagers. The program’s earmarked grant was
suspended after being challenged as unconstitutional in May 2005, but other
earmarks have been granted to Silver Ring Thing programs in Pennsylvania,
Alabama and South Carolina.
Federal law and regulations require that all faith-based recipients of earmarks
use the money only for non-religious purposes. But a federal appeals court
decision late last year has raised fresh constitutional questions about earmarks
awarded specifically to religious rescue missions.
The ruling came in a pending case that involves a homeless shelter owned by the
city of Boise, Idaho, but operated, under city contract, by the Boise Rescue
Mission. In a preliminary ruling, a trial judge refused to ban voluntary worship
services at the city-owned shelter.
In November, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco
reversed that decision, citing “serious questions” about whether the city’s
support for the faith-based rescue mission has the unconstitutional effect of
Constitutional questions aside, the political controversy over earmarks has
already begun to affect their availability for all petitioners, including
faith-based groups. But some lobbyists are optimistic that earmarks for
faith-based groups and other nonprofits will be spared.
Indeed, Mr. Marcone said that increasing the transparency of the earmark process
could actually work to the advantage of faith-based groups and other deserving
nonprofit groups. If members of Congress are required to put their names on
their earmarks, he explained, “they are going to want to award money to programs
that are going to make them look good, and those are going to be groups that are
doing good work.”
But for those who believe religious organizations should not pursue
private-purpose earmarks, that is not necessarily good news.
Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University professor who has written extensively on
religion and politics, said religious groups would naturally justify earmarks.
But their moral authority in Washington — “the extra prophetic power of the
religious voice,” as he put it — largely arises from the fact that they are not
seen as self-interested, he said. “The loss of that prophetic voice would be
Kenneth Wald, a professor at the University of Florida who also studies religion
in the political arena, foresees a more pragmatic danger for religious
organizations that lobby for earmarks. “If they start to act like any other
special interest, they’ll start to be treated like any other special interest,”
he said. “I think it’s nuts to take that risk.”
PLEASANTON, Calif. — Until this year, Richard W. Pombo, the
seven-term Republican congressman from the Central Valley, had never caused much
fanfare about bringing home earmarks, the special local projects that circumvent
the normal budgeting process. He was far better known for his work fighting
All that changed in the closing months of this year’s surprisingly tight
re-election campaign, when Mr. Pombo began trumpeting the money he had directed
to his car-bound district — particularly $75 million for highway expansion, a
gift for one of the most congested areas of California.
But it was not enough to persuade voters like Alex Aldenhuysen, a self-described
independent, just out of the Navy and voting for the first time in two years. He
said he was turned off by Mr. Pombo’s earmark talk. And in the end, Mr. Pombo
lost his seat to a Democrat in one of the year’s most significant upsets.
A timeworn bit of political wisdom has been that larding one’s district with
pork projects can act as an incumbency protection program. And the Republican
leaders in Congress ardently followed that principle.
“The leadership talked all the time about how we’ve got to use earmarks to help
these vulnerable members,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of
Arizona, who has become one of Washington’s loudest opponents of earmarking.
“But what this election showed was that earmarks just aren’t that important to
The powers of incumbency could not outweigh far more pressing issues, this year,
like the war in Iraq — which became the central point of most of the Democratic
campaigns — or the scandals that tarnished the Republican Party as a whole. The
abuse of earmarks itself became an issue in several races with some of their
biggest users, including two senators and four House members who served on the
appropriations committees that oversee federal spending, losing their seats.
It would be premature to write off the power of earmarks. Even in a highly
unfavorable year for Republicans, some of the biggest pork-style spenders
handily won re-election. And though Democrats have vowed to strip earmarks from
unfinished spending bills, the practice is such an oft-used political tool that
it may prove too tempting to eliminate.
“When you’re talking about institutional change, you need something sweeping to
happen in an election,” said James D. Savage, a professor of political science
at the University of Virginia and the author of a book on earmarks. “I think the
incentive to use earmarks is still there because it’s one of the few tools a
member of Congress can use.”
The number and total cost of earmarks reached record highs over the last two
years, but they seemed to offer little help to some members.
Representative Anne M. Northup, a Kentucky Republican who was a member of the
House Appropriations Committee, was defeated after five terms despite bringing
earmarks to her district, which includes Louisville, that were worth more than
five times that of two other districts without competitive races. Mr. Flake
identified her as one of the Republican leaders who pushed for earmarks to help
“Anne Northup was in there saying we’ve got to have these earmarks to help
certain members,” Mr. Flake said. “She was always saying how valuable they are.”
In an interview, Ms. Northup defended earmarks as a flexible budget tool for
members of Congress, and she took issue with Mr. Flake’s conclusion that voters
rejected politicians who relied on them.
Instead, she singled out one of the most notorious earmarks of the last budget
cycle — $230 million to build a bridge from a small town in Alaska to an island
with fewer than 50 people — as an anchor that dragged down other Republicans.
Representative Don Young, an Alaska Republican who served as chairman of the
Transportation Committee, guided a bill loaded with a record amount of earmarks,
including his bridge project in his district.
“How do you explain to voters a $230 million bridge to nowhere?” Ms. Northup
asked. Mr. Young, who has been chairman of the Transportation Committee since
2001, did not respond to interview requests.
A few weeks before the end of his re-election campaign, Senator Conrad Burns,
Republican of Montana, issued an unusual news release. He added up all the
earmark projects he had delivered to his state, boasting of bringing home $2
billion to a state with fewer than a million people.
Montana, Mr. Burns said, had been awarded a huge range of federal projects, from
$597,000 for the Montana Sheep Institute to $8 million to encourage private
“That money is going to be spent somewhere,” Mr. Burns said in a debate at
Montana State University, where the Burns Technology Center is named for him. “I
want Montanans to get first share.”
Mr. Burns, a three-term senator who was considered one of the Senate’s most
vulnerable incumbents, lost by about 3,000 votes.
“These vulnerables were literally screaming at the top of their lungs about what
they’ve been able to deliver,” said Steve Ellis, a vice president at Taxpayers
for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group.
Representative Mike Sodrel, Republican of Indiana, was put on an influential
transportation committee two years ago specifically so he could increase the
amount of financing for his swing district, he said in a news release.
For Mr. Sodrel’s district, it paid off. He boasted that he had been able to
increase transportation spending there by $220 million, or 37 percent, from the
previous spending bill. Mr. Sodrel still lost his seat in November.
There were several races in which the ability to bring home hundreds of federal
projects might have made enough of a difference to withstand a Democratic tide.
Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the fourth-ranking Republican in the
House, issued dozens of news releases over the last 18 months boasting of the
projects she brought home to a district that is considered evenly divided
between the two parties.
There was $2.27 million to convert a mountain of garbage into a green energy
center, $1.1 million to help keep residents of a fast-growing suburb from having
to pay more in user fees for a new sewage system, and the latest installment in
$2.7 million in federal disbursements to “evaluate freeze-dried berries for
their ability to inhibit cancer.”
In a spending bill that never passed the most recent session of Congress, Ms.
Pryce’s district stood to get the largest single earmark in Ohio — $1.75 million
for a health research institute. In total, the Columbus area lined up about $4.5
million in special money.
By comparison, Portland, Ore. — a similar-sized metropolitan area with no
contested Congressional seats — was to receive $625,000 in earmarks.
Ms. Pryce won by barely a thousand votes.
But she was in some ways an exception this year. Several Republican incumbents
who tried a similar strategy of touting their earmarks were unsuccessful.
Representative Charles Taylor, an eight-term Republican from North Carolina who
lost his race, set up an interactive map on his re-election Web site to show the
largess that he had directed to every county in his district.
“Click on the map to see how many of your taxpayer dollars Congressman Taylor
has returned to your county,” it said, going on to detail items like $1 million
for the creation of an Appalachian wine institute, $2 million to an astronomy
center deep in the forests of Transylvania County and $3 million to a local
school “to promote healthy childhood development and prevent violence.”
Mr. Taylor was chairman of the appropriations panel on the interior and
environment, making him a spending “cardinal” in the House. His position may
have led him to be caught off guard, said Mr. Ellis said.
“I think being an appropriator makes people lazy,” Mr. Ellis said. “They think
they don’t have to do all the other important things for their district. It
makes them feel bulletproof — ‘The voters wouldn’t be so stupid as to vote me
out of office.’ ”
Mr. Taylor, who refused interview requests, lost his seat to Heath Shuler, who
made excessive federal spending one of his campaign themes.
While people who oppose earmarks saw last month’s election as a rejection of the
growing volume of special projects, others say that is the wrong way to
interpret the results.
“Bringing federal projects home to a district helps an incumbent — period,” said
Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee. “Jeff
Flake is totally misreading the results.”
He said Mr. Taylor and another member of the Appropriations Committee, Don
Sherwood, Republican of Pennsylvania, had lost because of personal problems. Ms.
Northup, he said, “was just in a bad district — it’s always been tight.”
He attributed Indiana’s three losses to poorly run campaigns.
But Mr. Flake cited his own state as proof that that pork does not ensure
re-election. A fellow Arizona Republican member who had embraced earmarks,
Representative J. D. Hayworth, lost his seat.
“In the end, the voters saw through it,” Mr. Flake said.
Mr. Forti attributed Mr. Hayworth’s loss to running a single-issue campaign,
Still, Mr. Flake cites his own experience to back his point. Two years ago, Mr.
Flake drew a strong opponent in the primary who rounded up several mayors in his
district and made an issue of his refusal to tag earmarks for the home district.