Earmark Reform Efforts Bring Praise for Rep. Jeff Flake, Bloggers

There’s a sense of optimism in the air whirling around Capitol Hill — the winds of fiscal change seem to be finally picking up momentum — and House conservatives believe much of the credit goes to Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) and the increasingly influential online blogging community.

Yesterday afternoon key members of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, as well as representatives of several grassroots organizations, held a press conference to show their enthusiasm for what appears to be the ushering in of a new era of transparency in federal spending.

Later that same day, the first half of an earmark reform package, the House’s revised version of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590), was passed by voice vote. Sponsored in the House by Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.) and Tom Davis (R.-Va.) and in the Senate by Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) and Barack Obama (D.-Ill.), the bill requires all federal contracts, not just federal grants, be listed in a searchable public database.

"This is a huge victory for all who believe sunshine is the best disinfectant," said Davis following the vote. "It will provide transparency and accountability to the grant making process and allow for continued improvement of transparency in federal contract awards."

Today, the House of Representatives will vote on the second half of the earmark reform package that, if passed, will require a list of earmarks, accompanied by their sponsors’ names, to be attached to committee and conference reports.

Also, a press conference is scheduled this afternoon at which the four sponsors of S. 2590 will meet with Clay Johnson, deputy director of management for the Office of Management and Budget. They will promise immediate action on the resolution to provide the grants and contracts database requested in their legislation.

Rep. Jeff Flake at yesterday’s press conference

This is the kind of fiscal responsibility Rep. Jeff Flake has been fighting for throughout the past year as he’s picked at members’ pork — often standing completely alone.

"Jeff takes on fights that nobody else in Congress will take on," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R.-Tex.), one of Flake’s Republican Study Committee colleagues.

RSC Chairman Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) said he commends Flake for his "courage" and "integrity" and praised bloggers for their "extraordinary support across the blogosphere."

And how does Flake handle all the praise? He grins modestly and quickly deflects it.

"We would not be having this vote on earmark reform if it wasn’t for [the bloggers]," he said.

The truth is, Flake’s work in the House and Coburn’s in the Senate made it possible for bloggers to raise public awareness of federal pork-barrel spending. Six months ago most Americans didn’t know what an "earmark" was; now, thanks to phrases like "the Bridge to Nowhere," they have become household discussion.

Recognizing the blogosphere’s recent efforts to attach members’ names and total dollar amounts to the many earmarks contained in the Labor-HHS bill, Flake said, "I can’t stress how valuable that has been. It really has made the difference in this debate."

With sunlight finally breaking down the clouds of wasteful government spending, conservative House members are hopeful the public will remember their efforts come November.

Plugging the work of the "the majority of the majority," Pence said, "As we approach fall elections, I hope Americans see this as the beginning [of the GOP majority] putting the House in order. The answer is not more big-spending liberals but more conservative Republicans."

Rep. Mike Pence at yesterday’s press conference