Pork Battle Brewing

There is a new idea gaining steam in Washington: doing away with legislative earmarks for good. Earlier this year, House Republicans voted to ban any of their members from requesting the costly pork. Talk of extending the ban, or even making it permanent, was frequent on the campaign trail this fall - especially among Tea Party-backed candidates. Now, newly-elected and veteran members alike are vowing to get rid of the practice that allows lawmakers to route federal taxpayer dollars to pet projects in their home districts. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), the man who will likely be the next Speaker of the House, says, "I told my constituents in 1990 when they elected me that if they thought my job was to come to Washington and rob the public treasury on their behalf, they were voting for the wrong guy," adding, "I said it, and I meant it."

Though not a single spending bill has made it through Congress yet this year, an analysis of pending legislation reveals 3,000 earmarks on the House side - to the tune of $3 billion. On the Senate side, there are currently 3,700 pork projects tucked into proposed spending bills at a total cost of $6 billion. Critics of the earmarking process say it's time for both parties to get real about abolishing pork. Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense, says, "What we want Congress to do is be serious about how to figure out what are the priorities for the government, not ‘Should this park in my district get $25,000 for improvements?'"

Yet, while many Republicans say they're ready to get rid of earmarks once and for all, the Senate's top Republican isn't one of them. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admits the issue is creating some strife within the GOP and argues, "You could eliminate every congressional earmark and you'd save no money." McConnell says it's a matter of discretion and that he'd also like lawmakers to focus on so-called "executive earmarks." President Obama now says he deeply regrets signing legislation containing pork, and is ready to work with Republicans who would like to do away with the practice. "My hope is that we may be in a position now where the two sides meet and agree on some things that need to be changed," said the President. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who will soon run for the position of Majority Leader, says he's encouraged by the president's willingness to tackle the issue and that he's "absolutely hopeful" they can get something done.