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Words From Washington

An end to secret earmark slush fund means taxpayers win

Each year Congress is responsible for writing the 12 bills that fund the federal government. And, each year lawmakers have the opportunity to request funding for specific projects commonly referred to as earmarks.

Many earmarks are aimed at meeting legitimate needs - but some are not. So, how do you weed out the good from the bad? In my view, if an earmark is worthy of taxpayer dollars, then it must be able to withstand the scrutiny of all lawmakers, taxpayers and the public.

That's why the Republican Congress reformed the system last year by requiring the full disclosure of all earmarks - including which lawmaker requested them - before the spending bills are voted on. This guaranteed an opportunity to fully veto all earmarks, provided all Members of Congress the chance to challenge questionable projects and allowed for earmarks that represented an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars to be removed by a vote of the House before the overall bill was approved.

This week, Democrats in Congress decided not to play by those rules and instead chose to hide earmarks in secret slush funds - the contents of which only to be known after the bill was passed, when no Member of Congress could do anything to stop it. Democrat leaders wanted lawmakers to vote on billions in spending when pages on earmarks literally had blanks instead of dollar amounts.

They set up a process that would have kept earmarks secret until it would be too late to stop them - and they set up a multi-billion dollar secret slush fund in their bills to pay for them. The American people were promised earmark transparency and openness, but instead the Democrat majority in Congress was playing a secret, cynical game of fill-in-the-blank earmarks.

Recognizing that this scheme would provide lawmakers and America's taxpayers zero opportunity to challenge, or even review, earmarks - I joined with my Republican colleagues and we said no. We demanded transparency and accountability, and by the end of the week House Democrats were forced to restore last year's Republican reforms that require full disclosure of all earmarks (including who requested them) before bills are voted on in the House - not after.

This return to an open, accountable system is an important victory for American workers, families and businesses who deserve to know how Congress is spending their money.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's 4th Congressional District.

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