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This is an open source project, so feel free to add your own insights. Here's the news I found lurking around the Internets...

House Dems nix earmarks to private contractors

In a major move that both addresses some of the more blatant corruption in Congress and steals a Republican issue -- okay, Jeff Flake's issue -- the House Democratic caucus voted today to ban the practice of awarding earmarks to private companies.  

House Democrats ban earmarks for private contractors

House Democratic leaders banned Wednesday the practice of doling out multimillion-dollar, no-bid contracts to private contractors, a move that will shake up the lobbying industry that has come to rely on securing these so-called earmarks for their corporate clients.

At a meeting of the Democratic caucus, leaders unveiled the new rule that forbids private contractors from receiving earmarks, part of the party's effort to reclaim the reform mantle that it used successfully in its 2006 midterm campaign to reclaim the majority.

~snip

House Republicans praised the Democrats for taking this key step but are considering swearing off the practice. "We're going to have to make a decision," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told his colleagues at a closed-door meeting Wednesday, according to one attendee. "Are we really willing to put it all on the line to win this thing?"

So what does this mean? As we have discussed before, earmarks represent just a tiny portion of the budget. Eliminating them entirely will do almost nothing to address the deficit and national debt.

The problem with earmarks is that they are essentially free money, from Congress' point of view, to spread around the district. Also known as distributive politics, or pork barreling, such grants directly from members help to secure members' reelections according to most theories. Now there is a big difference between making an earmark for a community swimming pool and making an earmark for a business in your district to produce a new weapons system.

There is also a problem when those same private contractors are major campaign contributors. That was the heart of the PMA scandal that involved seven House Democrats, including the late John Murtha. All seven were exonerated, but it really did not look good for the Democrats. Add to that the Ethics problems surrounding Charlie Rangel and Eric Massa and it is obvious that the caucus had to do something drastic.

So what about the fallout? The vote means that Democrats cannot request earmarks that would go to a specific private company to provide goods and services to the government. They can request earmarks for public entities such as cities and schools. Of course that money could still find its way to the private sector through subcontractors and this may make tracking the money flow even more difficult than it is now.

As for House Republicans, they are in a holding pattern for for the moment. According to the Post article, they will discuss the issue tomorrow. Regardless of the outcome, their actions will have little significance in the short run. They can certainly request earmarks for their favorite companies, but as long as the Democrats control the chamber and thus the Appropriations Committee, they probably will not get their earmarks. Of course, the dynamic changes when the Republicans retake the house.

Furthermore, neither party in the Senate has shown any particular inclination to take similar steps. All that means is that the lobbying effort for the earmarks shifts to that side of the Capitol. In any case, the House Democrats always have the option of blocking appropriations bills passed by the Senate.

****

Ralph Reed opts out

Yesterday I mentioned that Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, was looking at a run for a safe Republican House seat in Georgia. It seems the rapture has been postponed for the moment.

Ralph Reed not running for Congress

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Ralph Reed has decided against a run for Congress. Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, who's political star faded after the extent of his ties to convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff were revealed in 2006, made the announcement this morning.

He does appear to be not only leaving the door open to another run for at some point, but he also appears to be trying to undergo something of a resurgence with the founding of another faith group, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Reed was in Iowa yesterday speaking to the Iowa Christian Alliance talking about his fundraising goals and how to take back Iowa with a Christian resurgence.

Correction: the rapture has simply moved to the cornfields of Iowa. Heads up, Progressives. The fundies want to fight for Iowa. Get your Cheetos-eating, pajama-wearing butts to work out there.

****

Sometimes you can defeat a filibuster

Yesterday, the Senate voted 66-34 to invoke cloture on the Unemployment Extensions Bill, thus proving that the parties can work across the aisle and that the myth of 60 is alive and well.

Senate Clears Hurdle to Aiding Unemployed

The Senate on Tuesday cleared a hurdle to extending unemployment benefits and health-care subsidies for the jobless until year's end, the latest modest bipartisan success on jobs and the economy.

The vote was 66-34, with eight Republicans, including newly-elected Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, joining the Democrats. One Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted against the measure.

The House approved a similar measure last year, and a vote on final Senate passage of the bill, which requires only a simple majority, is expected as soon as Wednesday after Tuesday's procedural move to cut off debate.

Interestingly, Scott Brown said that he disagrees with the bill itself, he also wanted to avoid gridlock in the Senate. I wonder if this will ruin his GOP cred. Anyway, this is the same bill that Jim Bunning single-handedly held up last week.

The Follow up: The final bill passed today by a vote of 62-36.

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Citizens United freakout

Often, the most interesting things that happen in Congress happen in the committees. To wit:

Campaign Finance Freak-Out

Is it hyperbole to describe people’s reactions to a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance as "freaking out?"

Some senators at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning seemed to freak out at the very use of the term itself. And we’re not even talking about the back-and-forth of late between Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the White House.

~snip

Mr. Leahy took immediate umbrage — interrupting Mr. Smith in a loud bark, disagreeing with the characterization. "I think I understand it a heck of lot better than you," Mr. Leahy said. Describing the makeup of Vermont’s "citizen legislators," Mr. Leahy said they were New England-style, far more taciturn people who don’t "freak out."

The thing is, when 80 percent of the public opposes a Supreme Court ruling, "freak out" is probably not too strong of a word. In fairness, though, SCOTUS Blog suggests that the wording of the poll questions could be improved since most people polled know little about the effect of the ruling.

****

I'm going to pick a fight

The best thing about being a progressive if that we are typically on the right side of debates about racism, xenophobia, and all of those other nasty aspects of bigotry. So heading into an important election year, why not make the conversation about race?

Why Democrats should pick a fight on immigration

The great thing about racists is they'll always take the bait. You won't get far into an immigration-reform debate, for instance, before the GOP's more zealous legislators start doing things like criminalizing priests and calling Miami a "third world country." Which is why Democrats ought to be more eager to spend 2010 debating immigration.

~snip

Now, of course, Graham remains the lone Republican onboard and the congressional calendar remains clogged with the bipartisan blockades of 2009. It's hard to imagine where Democrats will wedge meaningful immigration reform in between health insurance, jobs and banking.

Nonetheless, reform advocates have run out of patience–and the White House is once again very publicly brainstorming the issue. The president met with Schumer and Graham Monday for what Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton described as "getting an update from them on efforts to create bipartisan immigration legislation."

But we knew this was coming, amirite? If you have about an hour and a half, check out the link and the video. It features our fearless leader, kos. Besides, I sat through it live.

****

Tickle Fight

Today, The Most Important News of the Day™ unapologetically tickles kicks a man when he is down.

Ex-Congressman Describes Tickle Fights With Aides

~snip

"Now they are saying I groped a male staffer," he told Mr. Beck. "Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him. I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe, and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was kill the old guy. You can take anything out of context."

Mr. Massa suggested he had been warned about how his conduct was being perceived.

"My chief of staff had a conniption and said: ‘You can’t live there; it’s not Congressional,’ " he said.

If you can't stand to watch an hour of Glenn Beck's idiocy (and I can't), the Huffington Post has helpfully posted a video containing all of the key points about tickling and arm twisting.

Perhaps thing would have gone better had both guys stayed focused on what Beck wanted out of Massa.

Massa flirts with the right, but Beck isn't tickled

Just seven minutes into Glenn Beck's hour-long interview of Eric Massa on Tuesday evening, things had already gone very wrong.

Conservatives had hopes that the now-former Democratic congressman from Upstate New York, who resigned abruptly under an ethics cloud, would deliver the goods about corruption and strong-arm tactics in the Obama White House and Congress. But instead, Massa served up an icky new confession.

With that, I bid you a good evening and I promise not to kick around any other former Congressmen this evening.

Originally posted to Casual Wednesday on Wed Mar 10, 2010 at 02:43 PM PST.

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