Thursday, December 14, 2006

Byrd Swears off Earmarks? I Don't Think So; Watch for the Federal Budget Digest

By now, you've probably seen the report from al-AP that the incoming chairmen of the House & Senate Appropriations committees, Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin and West Virginia's very own Robert C. "Big Daddy" Byrd, both of whom chaired their respective committees prior to the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, have announced they will strip all of this year's remaining appropriations bills of earmarks.

Lest you think the Byrd is changing his ways, fear not my fellow pork-starved West Virginians. Either this is a one-time publicity stunt by a pair of leopards who want you to think they've changed their spots or they've got an even more insidious trick up their sleeves.

The second option is that Byrd will bring to Washington a West Virginia novelty whose use in our state Legislature was abolished early this year, the budget digest.

West Virginia's budget digest was a system whereby the chairmen (later expanded tot he full committee membership) of the finance committees of our state Senate and House of Delegates promulgated a list of projects they intended to have funded from the budget bill. Under this system, our state budget had no earmarks. Although the budget digest was not legally binding, career bureaucrats knew their lives would be much easier if they strictly adhered to the digest. And, as a legally nonbinding instrument, the governor did not have line item veto or reduction powers. This system was severely abused by the leadership of the House of Delegates, leading to a series of lawsuits that eventually prompted the legislative leadership to abolish the budget digest system so they could render the pending litigation moot and prevent discovery of very embarrassing evidence of this abuse.