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Democrats are sidestepping rules approved their first day in power in January to clearly identify “earmarks” — lawmakers’ requests for specific projects and contracts for their states — in documents that accompany spending bills.

Rather than including specific pet projects, grants and contracts in legislation as it is being written, Democrats are following an order by the House Appropriations Committee chairman to keep the bills free of such earmarks until it is too late for critics to effectively challenge them.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., says those requests for dams, community grants and research contracts for favored universities or hospitals will be added spending measures in the fall. That is when House and Senate negotiators assemble final bills to send to President Bush…

Budget watchdog groups who “scrub” appropriations bills for questionable provisions are outraged.

“Who appointed him judge and jury of earmarks?” Tom Schatz, president of the Citizens Against Government Waste. “What that does is leave out the public’s input.”

What Obey is doing runs counter to new rules that Democrats promised would make such spending decisions more open. Those rules made it clear that projects earmarked for federal dollars and their sponsors were to be made available to public scrutiny when appropriations bills are debated.

Tags: Democrats