Murtha losing power, report says

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the most powerful of the approrpriations committee's "Old Bulls" in Congress, is losing power and falling out of favor with the administration, the NY Times reports today.

Murtha has become the target of attacks for his close ties to the PMA Group, a defense appropriations lobbying firm which was raided by the FBI and is currently under investigation. Murtha has secured millions of dollars in earmarks for clients of PMA. The company has donated almost $170,000 to Murtha over his career.

The changes in Murtha's power seem to be threefold: (1) more regulations on his appropriations deals; (2) less acquiesence from the administration; and (3) a fundraising slump.

First, the NY Times reports that Democratic leaders are cracking down on Murtha's earmark discretion:
In a private meeting with the chairman of the House appropriations committee, Mr. Murtha, the unofficial leader of the "old bulls" who oversee the subcommittees, was forced to accept a series of new restrictions on his authority to grant earmarks, Democratic aides briefed on the meeting said. In previous weeks he had already acquiesced to another steep cut in the volume of earmarks he dispenses, down by half this year from a few years ago. He had also accepted new disclosure requirements, including public hearings, that cramp his ability to cut last-minute deals.

Second, the Pentagon seems to be giving Murtha the cold sholder. The Times reports Secretary Gates has rebuffed Murtha on whether to scrap the President's new helicopters and how to contract a new $35 billion airborne refueling tanker.

Finally, Murtha's fundraising is down about 50% from this time last year.

The House has rejected seven times a proposal to launch an ethics investigation into PMA.

On a related note, two House Democrats introduced legislation last week to bar any lawmaker from receiving campaign contributions from a company on whose behalf they secured earmarks.

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