Clap If You Love Earmarks

When President Bush announced a crackdown on congressional earmarks this week, he got a standing ovation from both parties.

"If these items are truly worth funding, Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote," the president said.

One observer called it "prom night" for earmark reform, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

Earmarks are grants of your tax dollars without the normal public review, often given to pet projects by members of Congress in near secrecy.

They add up to billions of dollars and, critics say, are ripe for fraud and abuse by some.

Congress is full of big earmarkers, but here's a closer look at just who was clapping at the idea of cutting them. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is acting happy, though she's hardly been shy about earmarks. Hers total an estimated $364 million this year.

What about this group of applauding Republicans? Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is a top earmarker in the House - around $40 million this year. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who is under FBI investigation related to his earmarking practices, tallied roughly $136 million, including money to build a decorative arch in a neighborhood where his wife owns a home.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, also under investigation, once earmarked $200 million tax dollars for a so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. This year he topped $500 million and, well, he may be clapping, but he's one of the first to sit back down.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't even pretend to applaud. She's got $87 million in earmarks under her belt this year.

Read more from Attkisson at Couric & Co. blog.
"Both Democrats and Republicans have taken beatings on earmarks. But at the same time, they've also gotten praise when they brought earmarks home to their districts that people in their district like," said Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

If all of this was "prom night" for earmark reform, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., would have to be the prom king. He's led an anti-earmark crusade in Congress.

His total earmarks? Zero. On this night, he just seemed happy to have others join the dance.
  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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