- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2010

In a move to break with Republicans’ big-spending past, House Republicans voted Thursday to ban their members this year from requesting earmarks, or pork-barrel spending projects.

House Republicans, who passed the moratorium by voice vote in a closed-door meeting, said they have now put pressure on the rest of Congress — Republicans in the Senate, and Democrats in both chambers — to follow their lead.

“Today, House Republicans took an important step toward showing the American people were serious about reform by adopting an immediate, unilateral ban on all earmarks,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “But the more difficult battle lies ahead, and thats stopping the spending spree in Washington that is saddling our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars in debt.”

Senate Republicans will hold their own conference to decide what to do about their policy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, will announce today, according to his office.

The vote seemed to catch Democrats off guard, with some of them predicting beforehand it wouldn’t pass and others saying they are comfortable with the record they’ve amassed in cutting down on earmark abuses.

Since taking control of Congress in 2007, Democrats have prohibited members from benefiting personally from earmarks and have required every earmark request to be posted on a member’s Web site. The transparency has provided watchdog groups with invaluable information to track the formerly murky process.

On Wednesday, House Democrats announced another new rule to ban earmarks to for-profit companies.

Democrats mocked Republicans for embracing reform now, when they are in the minority.

“They talked for years but never did anything,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said.

“I was here during a period of time when the Republicans were in the majority. They did zero, nothing, when it came to reform in the earmark process,” he said.

Earmarks account for less than 1 percent of federal spending but have become symbolic of the worst abuses of Congress, with ex-members serving jail time for trading earmarks for gifts.

The House GOP’s ban applies to earmarks in spending, tax and authorization bills. It lasts for the rest of this year.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who has for years conducted a lonely fight against earmarks, said Republican leaders will enforce the ban by refusing to forward any earmark requests from their members to the committees that write the bills.