Donald Lambro

These developments had spending critics cheering last week that the Election Day message was heard loud and clear on both sides of the aisle and that the rate of spending increases, for the time being at least, will be reined in. No one was happier about this than Citizens Against Government Waste, the fiercely combative anti-pork lobby that sent out a news release titled "Congress Goes Kosher: CAGW Cheers Pork-Free Diet." "Today's announcement is a huge victory for taxpayers," said CAGW President Tom Schatz. "A CR pre-empts funding increases for bloated federal agencies and thousands of pork-barrel projects. However, Congress must pass earmark reforms during its pork diet or it will gain back the weight it loses," he said. Throw in the Democrats' promise to forgo next year's congressional pay raise and the word going out seems to be that it will not be business as usual on Capitol Hill. We'll see. ... Whatever happens next year, these events represent a stunning blow to the orgy of pork-barrel spending that both parties have engaged in with uncontrolled gluttony.

"This is an important victory for American taxpayers," DeMint said. "Americans voted in November for a return to fiscal responsibility and for an end to the wasteful and sometimes corrupt practice of pork-barrel spending. The earmarking system has become a favor factory that doles out money based on power and influence rather than merit and need, and it must be reformed."

Congress passed 12,852 earmarks in the last fiscal year, according to the Congressional Research Service. DeMint says the action he and his fellow conservatives took last week "effectively cut the number of earmarks by 80 percent down to 2,600 for fiscal year 2007." Now the battle turns to reforming the budget process to stop or at least reduce future pork-barrel spending abuses.

Among the recommendations pushed by CAGW: Require that the authors and sponsors of earmarks be disclosed; Severely limit the number of earmarks each lawmaker can request; Ban earmarks that have not been considered in a congressional committee hearing; Prohibit earmarks from being slipped into spending bills during House-Senate conference negotiations; Make conference reports containing the details of all provisions in negotiated spending bills available at least two days before they are sent to the floor for consideration.

Of the many spending abuses perpetrated by Congress over the years, none has been more outrageous and corrupt than earmarks whose costs have exploded in the last decade. The bill for these pork projects has grown from $3.1 billion in fiscal '91 to $29 billion in fiscal 2006, according to CAGW's annual Congressional Pig Book. Now we are entering a period that will test whether anyone notices that the budget is being run on a flat-line continuing resolution for the coming year.

"If the sky does not fall, if flat budgets make no difference in the lives of everyday citizens, it explodes the myth that congressional pork and spending increases are truly necessary," Schatz said. My guess is that no one will notice except the big money interests who have picked our pockets for far too long. The voters have spoken and, lo and behold, things are changing. Who says you can't beat the system?

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.