WASHINGTON – A Senate panel heard testimony Wednesday on ways to limit congressional pork (search), but even its sponsors recognize that the resolution to cut out lawmakers' pet projects has little chance of prevailing.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (search), is leading the very small pack of lawmakers interested in reducing the amount of money earmarked by legislators in appropriations bills. By some estimates, those earmarks -- generally described as last-minute, unrequested, specially designated projects -- totaled $45 billion in the 2003 budget.
Earmarks -- often called pork by spending hawks -- are added to the budget in Washington-size drips and drabs -- $1 million for bear DNA studies, $9.5 million for wood research. The money is added into spending bills with the approval of appropriations chairmen and are rarely questioned or objected to by other lawmakers.
All of it makes McCain crazy.
"We can't afford to spend a million dollars on bear DNA sampling studies without authorizing $50,000 for the gasification of switch grass in Iowa, $280,000 for asparagus technology and production in Washington," said McCain, who sponsored the measure with Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
McCain and his allies want to change Senate rules to make it easier to strip earmarks from appropriations bills by allowing objections during floor debate that would require 60 votes to overcome.
The move has earned applause from one Washington watchdog group.
“With a deficit of $400 billion, we hope that other senators join Sen. McCain and the resolution’s co-sponsors," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste (search). "Unfortunately, those infected with spending fever have already mounted an aggressive campaign to stop the resolution from reaching the Senate floor.”
Reducing pork won't be easy -- one lawmaker's pork is often another's meat and potatoes.
"I guess that depends on your point of view," Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said, referring to different definitions of pork. "To me, it's federal spending north of Memphis."
Consider the case of the brown tree snake. Millions of dollars have been spent to kill a handful of these pesky reptiles in Hawaii. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, got the money by inserting language into the defense appropriations bill.
While many snicker at the thought of spending millions to kill a few snakes, Inouye is doing just what many in Hawaii say is the right thing. They point to the example from Guam, where the brown tree snake wiped out half the birds on that island.
"Hawaii doesn't have indigenous snakes, and so I saw it, and the committee approved I think a $2 million eradication program in the beginning. We've spent a total of $12 million, but if it grows wild, it will no longer be a tropic island of birds," Inouye said.
McCain acknowledges that the chances of the plan passing are slim, especially since the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Ted Stevens, represents the state of Alaska, which snagged $393 million in pork projects. The Republican lawmaker has vowed to filibuster any proposal to curb earmarks that reaches the Senate floor.
"I'm aware that this proposal will not be overwhelmingly supported by some of my colleagues," McCain said.
Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.