Democrats put earmarks on hold

WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders declared a temporary moratorium on special-interest provisions known as earmarks as they attempt to cope with a budget crisis left by the outgoing Republican-led 109th Congress.

Congress adjourned early Saturday, having completed work on two of the 11 spending bills for the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. As a short-term fix, lawmakers extended current funding levels until Feb. 15. But the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees announced this week that they would extend current levels until the 2008 fiscal year begins next Oct. 1.

The alternative was to attempt to finish work on the spending bills when the Democratic-led Congress convenes in January, a dreaded prospect that could have derailed Democratic legislative efforts and stirred up policy battles around the same time that President Bush is due to submit his fiscal 2008 budget to the Hill, along with a large supplemental spending request for the Iraq war.

The new chairmen, Rep. David Obey (Wis.) and Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), said in a statement: “While the results will be far from ideal, this path provides the best way to dispose of the unfinished business quickly, and allow governors, state and local officials, and families to finally plan for the coming year with some knowledge of what the federal government is funding.”

They also said they would place a moratorium on all earmarks until lobbying changes are enacted.

Those special spending provisions included in the unfinished fiscal 2007 bills will be eligible for consideration next year, the chairmen said, subject to new standards.

“We will work to restore an accountable, above-board, transparent process for funding decisions and put an end to the abuses that have harmed the credibility of Congress,” the chairmen said.

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