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.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

WV House Speaker-elect Rick Thompson Names Leadership Team

Sunday, triumphant West Virginia House Democrats overwhelmingly voted to elect trial lawyer Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, as their Speaker to succeed retiring Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh/Kanawha. With that vote, I suspected there would be grab bags of goodies for both southern machine politicians and a variety of liberal interests.

I was not wrong. Today, Speaker-elect Thompson named his new leadership team. Gambling interests drew a full house with the appointment of Mountaineer Park horse trainer Delegate Joe DeLong, D-Hancock, to be the Majority Leader. Labor unions also fared well, as United Mine Workers official Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, was appointed Majority Whip. Southern coalfields politicos won a major victory with the appointment of Delegate Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, as House Finance Committee Chairman. With little surprise, teachers' unions got their choice with the appointment of Delegate Mary Poling, D-Barbour, to chair the House Education Committee.

However, the true gem of the new leadership team will be in the House Judiciary Committee. Trial lawyers, abortionists, gay marriage supporters, the Charleston Gazette, and every possible left-wing cause you could imagine except gun control will cheer tonight as they learn that Delegate Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, will take over the gavel of the Judiciary Committee from her (comparatively) far more moderate fellow Kanawha County Delegate Jon Amores. However, thanks to the election of socialist Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha, and the return to office of Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, Webster will have to settle for being just the third most liberal member of the House.