Republicans who want to credibly keep calling themselves conservatives should think long and hard before voting against Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) one-year earmark moratorium proposal today. New polling by NBC/WSJ shows Democrats have their largest advantage in party identification in years, 47% to 35%. A big reason why the Republicans have fallen so far is the complete erosion of their credibility on reigning in federal spending. When it comes to handling the federal budget deficit, the American public routinely tells pollsters they now trust Democrats on the issue.

DeMint has compared Republican reliance on earmarks to an addiction, telling The Politico his colleagues, “We need to go cold turkey… Anything less would be like telling an alcoholic, ‘Don’t drink as much.'” The appropriators’ counterarguments in favor of the earmark culture leave a lot to be desired. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) called an earmark ban “an abolition of the authority of Congress,” which “passes to the executive branch massive amounts of authority, which I’m not sure you want to embed in a bureaucracy which is unaccountable.”

Gregg seems to forget that the president, who controls the bureaucracy, can be held accountable (and more often than senators who only face election every six years). Furthermore, Gregg ignores the fact that the explosion in earmarks is a relatively recent phenomenon and that Congress asserted its authority just fine for close to 200 years without them. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) arguments against the ban were even more feeble. Reid said last year’s ethics bill is all the change in lobbying rules Congress needed. But despite the “the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate,” the number of earmarks in last year’s budget ballooned to 11,738 projects at a cost of $21 billion.

Earmarks are not as harmless as the appropriators would have us believe. Since the funds for most transportation earmarks come out of each state’s federal allocation, congressional pet projects come at the expense of state and local priorities. A recent analysis of the effects of the earmarking process on Colorado’s transportation priorities highlights how earmarks distort a state’s ability to fulfill its priorities. The head of the Colorado DOT recently noted that 2% of the federal trans­portation money coming to the state in 2000 was earmarked in Washington, but by 2006, earmarks took 13% of the total.

Worse, while there may not be a causal relationship between the two, the number of earmarks approved each year tracks closely with growth in federal spending. DeMint explains why this relationship may be more than a coincidence: “I talked to colleagues who would say, ‘DeMint, I gotta vote for this bill because it has my project in it,’ even though the bill was way over budget.”

Quick Hits:

  • Many congressional candidates in tight races, from Alaska to New York, are vowing to pursue earmarks despite the intensifying movement against pet projects.
  • According to late February polling conducted by the Pew Research Center, 53% of Americans now believe “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq.
  • The International Longshore and Warehouse Union will stop work on May Day to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ILWU held similar stunts to protest U.S. involvement in World War I.
  • New Gallup research shows only 18% of Americans favor an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops — the lowest level ever since Gallup started asking the question.
  • Faced with high-levels of crime and illegal immigration, authorities in Yuma, Ariz., are reaching back to a technique as old as a medieval castle to dig out a moat on a crime-ridden stretch of the border and fill it with water.