Debra J. Saunders

When he ran for president, then-Sen. Barack Obama argued that earmarks account for a mere "0.5 percent of the total federal budget," so eliminating earmarks would not solve the problem.

With that attitude, they ought to put up a new Welcome to Washington sign that reads: Prodigo ergo prodigo. I spend, therefore I keep spending.

Enter the fiscal watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste's latest annual "pig book" -- which found $16.5 billion in congressional earmarks, or line-item local pet spending projects pushed by individual lawmakers -- approved in the 2010 fiscal year.

Believe it or not, that's good news. As CAGW President Thomas A. Schatz told a Washington news conference last week, after "Congress has approved $700 billion for the bank bailout, $862 billion for the stimulus, a $3.6 trillion budget, a $1.4 trillion deficit, there's a little bit of good news for taxpayers: Earmarks are reduced from fiscal year 2009." Indeed, they're down 15.5 percent from $19.6 billion in 2009.

Karl Rove book FREE

Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, credited the "long list of reforms" the speaker began implementing in 2007. Members are supposed to place their names next to earmark requests and provide letters explaining where and why the money will be spent. In March, House Democratic leaders banned the practice of doling out big-dollar earmarks to private contractors.

The next day, the House Republican Conference countered by pledging not to request earmarks for one year, a notion the Dems considered and then rejected.

I can only say: It's about time, and the Republicans had better keep their word. As CAGW rightly noted: "After Republicans took over Congress in 1994, pork-barrel projects started to be used as a currency of re-election. Over the following decade, they became a currency of corruption, and the explosion in earmarks to their peak at $29 billion in 2006 helped erase the Republican majority."

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who was elected in 2008 to replace the earmark-happy and scandal-plagued Republican Rep. John Doolittle, told me that there's a "new attitude" among House Repubs, in part because "a lot of those folks were replaced in the '06 and '08 election cycle."

According to CAGW, 48 members of Congress -- 37 Republicans and 11 Democrats -- were not requesting earmarks this year. Within 24 hours of the pig book's release, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., joined their ranks when he announced he would reject earmarks on the grounds that the appropriations process is "fundamentally flawed and lacks oversight."

Debra J. Saunders

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