Robert Novak

Lawyer-like, Republican leaders are demanding the definition of an earmark. They could get a good idea by looking at just a sample of current earmarks secured by task force members. Cochran: $475,000 for beaver management in Mississippi. Lugar: $240,000 to rehabilitate the Alhambra Theater in Evansville, Ind. Isakson: $300,000 for Old Fort Jackson in Savannah, Ga. Crapo: $250,000 for the Idaho sage grouse.

House Republican evasions are subtler. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, a staunch defender of earmarking, has proposed a statutory "earmark reform commission," with a maximum six-month life, during which Republicans would refrain from earmarking. But that will allow them to be back at the pork barrel before the year ends.

House Republican Leader John Boehner, who unlike McConnell does not earmark and criticizes the practice, flinched from making a bold move as this year's session of Congress began. He could have led the House Republican Conference to endorse a yearlong moratorium and name reformer Jeff Flake of Arizona to a vacancy on the Appropriations Committee.

Instead, the Republicans picked Jo Bonner of Alabama, who spent 18 years as a House staffer before his election in 2002. Bonner has voted against Flake in 49 out of 50 attempts to kill earmarks. He has promised his Mobile-area constituents they would get "fair value" for their tax dollar -- the justification for bringing home the bacon from Washington. Incredibly, Boehner hailed Bonner's selection as a step toward earmark reform.

The GOP may be falling behind the Democrats, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moving toward a moratorium. In the Senate, courageous freshman Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri supports the DeMint amendment. She could be joined by her choice for president, Barack Obama. These developments encouraged Flake to say: "If Democrats actually move ahead with an earmark moratorium before Republicans, the Democrats will get the credit for eliminating earmarks, and, frankly, they'll deserve it."

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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