Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- One of the issues Democrats have been most vocal about is the sharp increases in the budget deficit. But when they had a chance to strike a blow against wasteful pork projects in the House last month, 156 of them voted for business as usual.

The line-item veto passed the House anyway on a fairly robust vote of 247-172, with the support of 212 Republicans and 35 brave Democrats who broke with their party's opposition.

Now the measure goes to the Senate, where President Bush is pulling out all the stops to pass a bill that will give him the authority to reject the many pork-barrel provisions secretly inserted into spending bills that have wasted -- looted might be a better word -- tens of billions of tax dollars.

These are the notorious spending projects, such as the Alaskan bridge to nowhere, that have lined the pockets of the special interests, particularly the lobbyists who are paid vast sums of money to sneak these measures into appropriation measures that no one in the government requested and no committee ever approved by a recorded vote.

It is without a doubt the worst scandal afflicting Congress, and it's getting worse each year. The number of so-called "earmarks" slipped into these spending bills has skyrocketed from 3,055 in 1996 to 14,211 in 2004, the last year for which official numbers are available from the Congressional Research Service. The cost of all this has more than doubled to $53 billion and will climb ever higher if something isn't done to stop Congress from shamelessly squandering the money we hand over to them in ever larger sums each year.

How much more are they spending? Well, since 2001 the budget has shot up by about 50 percent -- from $1.87 trillion to an estimated $2.77 trillion in the next fiscal year. Much of that are entitlements run amok, but the pork is a big part of it, too.

The House's line-item veto would work like this: The president would be able to essentially draw a line through each spending item he deems unnecessary and wasteful, and then send a full rescission list to Congress, which would have 90 days to approve or reject his recommendations by a simple majority vote.

Congress approved a line-item veto in 1996, a budget tool that President Clinton requested, as have presidents going back to Harry Truman. But the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, saying that only Congress can craft appropriations bills and that the line-item veto, which required a two-thirds vote to override, cut into Congress' power of the purse, giving the president too much authority to shape funding measures.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.