U.S. Congress

Harnessing the web to expose earmarks

Earmarks are the lifeblood of Washington, providing an avenue for Congress to bypass the executive branch and designate specific blocks of money to go to specific programs or contractors. They are also, as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) calls them, the "currency of corruption." Earmarks given to defense contractors in exchange for bribes were what brought down now-former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and are creating a mess of trouble for Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) and several other members of Congress.

Beyond corruption, earmarks often take the form of "pork," the taxpayer-funded largess that members of Congress snag to show their constituents how effective they are at bringing home the bacon (a major plank in the primary platform of Sen. Joe Lieberman).

In short, earmarks often aggravate a lot of people of varied political bents, from deficit hawks to citizen muckrakers. However, finding out where the earmarks are actually going has been a historically difficult task—until now.

The Sunlight Foundation, which co-operates Congresspedia with the Center for Media and Democracy, has just developed a group of fancy tools that slice and dice the 2007 appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to show you who exactly is getting the 1,800 earmarks in that bill. They are enlisting citizen journalists to help them expose the outrageous and the scurrilous in the bill.

Congress vs. The President

About two weeks ago, on July 26, 2006, the American Bar Association issued a report condemning President Bush's use of "signing statements." These statements are essentially a "P.S." written underneath his signature on a piece of legislation that states how he interprets and intends to enforce the law. (This is part of the Unitary Executive Theory.)

The ABA is not happy about this. From the press release for the report:

"Presidential signing statements that assert President Bush’s authority to disregard or decline to enforce laws adopted by Congress undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers... To address these concerns, the task force urges Congress to adopt legislation enabling its members to seek court review of signing statements that assert the President’s right to ignore or not enforce laws passed by Congress, and urges the President to veto bills he feels are not constitutional."

The ABA asked and it shall receive: two days later Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) filed a bill that would allow the House or Senate to file a lawsuit to have the Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of signing statements.

Here's where Congresspedia comes in. I called Sen. Specter's office and confirmed that while the bill has been referred to Specter's Senate Judiciary Committee, there has yet to be a hearing and no other Senators have signed up to be cosponsors. So, where do members of the Senate stand on Specter's bill? Citizen journalists, help us find out.

The Colbert Report: Sense of Humor Required

The morning shows and cable news outlets have been all over Steven Colbert's July 20 interview with Rep. Bob Wexler (D-Fla.) on the Colbert Report. We at Congresspedia think that Colbert's interviews are frequently hilarious and have created indexes of links to videos of the interviews that he and Jon Stewart have done with members of Congress. However, as we state at the top of the index pages, "It should be noted that the interviews often veer into pure comedy and should not be taken as on-the-record comments." So, when Colbert gets Rep. Wexler to discuss subjects like prostitutes and cocaine, we suggest you take Colbert's advice and recognize that, hey, "he's got a sense of humor."

We've now expanded our video link lists to include non-interview segments on both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report that pertain to Congress. Click through the above links to see them or read the rest of this blog entry for the list of interviews.

Business Lobbies Hard for India's Nuclear Exemption

Robert Hoffman, a lobbyist for Oracle, describes the preliminary Congressional vote to exempt India from a ban on nuclear technology sales as "a coming-out party of sorts for the India lobby." The U.S. Atomic Energy Act bans nuclear sales to countries, such as India, that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Last month, both House and Senate committees gave in-principle support to the agreement negotiated between U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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"Citizen" Pharmaceutical: Petitioning the Government to Pick Your Pocket?

A bipartisan Senate inquiry into Food and Drug Administration generic drug reviews suggests that Big Pharma's abuse of so-called "citizen petitions" is costing consumers tens of millions of dollars each month.

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Congress Examines US Foreign Propaganda Campaign

"Though many Arabs are receptive to America's propaganda theme of 'freedom and hope,' they are turned off by the message because of the strong U.S. support of Israel, said Rep. Christopher Shays [R-Conn] during his all-day Capitol Hill probe into this country's public diplomacy efforts," reports O'Dwyer's PR. Pollster John Zogby told the meeting "more than 90 percent of those polled in [Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and U.A.E] gave an 'unfavorable' rating for U.S. policy toward the Arab nations and toward the Palestinians."

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Congresspedia Review: Last Week in Congress (Nov. 10–16, 2007)

This week in Congress saw the showdown over the 2008 Budget come to a head and the reemergence of a partisan feud over Iraq War funding.

President Bush followed through on his threat to veto the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill last week, and though the margin was short, the House was unable to approve an override. Bush has promised vetoes for some of the other spending bills, so the future of the budget process remains uncertain.

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