Quitting pork cold turkey

January 31, 2007

There's plenty to criticize about the eight-month federal spending plan Democratic leaders will present today to their House colleagues as a done deal. The $463 billion package was crafted by the appropriations chairmen, David R. Obey in the House and Robert C. Byrd in the Senate, to deal with the GOP's failure to pass a budget for this fiscal year, now almost half-gone.

Yet their plan is far more than a simple extension of current spending in order to get on with shaping a 2008 budget. It beefs up some programs and cuts others to reflect Democratic priorities but hasn't been broadly reviewed. "We probably have made some wrong choices," Mr. Obey acknowledged.

But the key feature of this spending plan is what's not there: earmarks, those special-interest goodies requested by individual lawmakers. As promised, the two chairmen delivered a proposal that quits this form of pork cold turkey. And while earmarks will likely return in the 2008 budget, a brief period on the wagon might help Congress adopt reforms to do away with them.

Lawmakers argue that they must earmark spending for specific projects because they know better than bureaucrats how money should be spent. They should prove it.

Such projects should be reviewed through the authorization process to determine if they are worthy of taxpayer investment rather than simply being tacked on to a broader spending bill with no weighing of priorities.

It's ironic and lamentable, though, that this move toward greater transparency and accountability comes cloaked in such an overall ham-handed approach. Granted, the GOP left a mess, time is running out and there are spending urgencies that must be addressed. But Democrats also blamed Republican inaction for their unveiling legislation at the last minute and forbidding changes during their first hectic 100 hours. It's time to make good on their promises of openness and civility.

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