Murtha is on CREW's list of the most corrupt Congressmen (as "one to watch") and has a history of working with Republicans in order to block fraud investigations and prevent lobbying reform. I observed last November that it looked like the Democrats were off to a poor start on reforming Congress.
With the midnight hour approaching on Saturday, Aug. 4, near the end of a marathon session, Democratic and Republican leaders alike wanted to pass the defense appropriations bill quickly and start their summer recess. But Republican Rep. Jeff Flake's stubborn adherence to principle forced an hour-long delay that revealed unpleasant realities about Congress.
Flake insisted on debating the most egregious of the 1,300 earmarks placed in the defense money bill by individual House members that authorize spending in their districts. Defending every such earmark was the chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee: Democratic Rep. John Murtha, unsmiling and unresponsive to questions posed on the House floor by Flake. Murtha is called "King Corruption" by Republican reformers, but what happened after midnight on Aug. 5 is not a party matter. Democrats and Republicans, as always, locked arms to support every earmark. It makes no difference that at least seven House members are under investigation by the Justice Department. A bipartisan majority insists on sending taxpayers' money to companies in their districts without competitive bidding or public review.
Claims of newly established transparency were undermined by the late-night follies. Flake, who ran a Phoenix think tank, the Goldwater Institute, before coming to Congress in 2001, is immensely unpopular on both sides of the aisle for forcing votes on his colleagues' pork. He burnished that reputation by prolonging the marathon Saturday session and challenging selected earmarks.
What ensued showed the sham of earmark "reform." With debate on each earmark limited to five minutes per pro and con, and roll calls also pressed into five minutes, the House was mainly interested in finishing up and defeating Flake with huge bipartisan majorities. The mood of annoyance with Flake was personified by the 17-term Murtha, who as subcommittee chairman defended and retained every earmark (including notorious infusions of cash to his Johnstown, Pa., district).