Both parties in House start war over pork

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Pork-barrel spending may be on its last legs in the House as Republicans and Democrats join in a bidding war to outdo each other over fighting abusive earmark spending.

House Democrats, who control the chamber, said Wednesday they’ll impose a ban on earmarks where the government sends money to for-profit corporations, while House Republicans are slated to vote Thursday on whether to impose a complete one-year moratorium on themselves - and increase pressure on Democrats to follow suit.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told his colleagues in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that the moratorium vote will test whether Republicans are ready to prove to voters that they stand for change.

“We’re going to have to make a decision,” Mr. Boehner said in the meeting, according to a senior Republican aide. “Are we really willing to put it all on the line to win this thing?”

Even as the House bidding war heats up, though, the Senate has signaled it’s not going to play. The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee said they’ll keep doing earmarks. Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, called House Democrats’ ban on for-profit companies “quizzical.”

Earmarks are the items members of Congress insert into bills or reports directing money to their pet projects. Though less than 1 percent of total federal spending, the earmark process has become a symbol of congressional waste and of the ballooning federal deficit.

Rep. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who has for years led lonely fights on the House floor to strip earmarks from bills, said he expects the moratorium to pass after several important members of the Appropriations Committee told him they’ll back a halt.

If Republicans adopt a moratorium, he said, Democrats will have to follow.

“I can’t believe that the House Democrats could go forward, if we announce a complete ban, they go forward with earmarks,” he said.

Mr. Flake said after reports of earmark-linked corruption, and with spending sky-high, his colleagues had to act as they prepare to face voters in November.

“The country, right, left and center, is sick and tired of wasteful spending. Just the overall climate was enough to push it over the edge,” he said.

Mr. Boehner’s move won backing from no less an earmark fan than former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and a staunch defender of Congress’ power of the purse, who nonetheless said Mr. Boehner is “showing some real leadership on an issue the Republicans have to deal with and get behind.”

Mr. DeLay said Congress will never get rid of earmarks entirely and that when done right earmarking is actually a good thing, but said the practice has run off the rails.

“It got out of hand, that’s for sure, and that’s what generated the controversy. But if Boehner can pull the conference together and they deal with earmarks in a responsible way, then that gets an issue that divides the party off the table,” he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Boehner has never taken earmarks, and other House Republican leaders have since sworn off taking them.

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