Despite “the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate” and promises from the new House leadership to cut the number of earmarks in half, it appears the House is on its way again to absurd levels of pork-barrel spending. Roll Call reports that member earmark requests to the House Appropriations Committee website clogged with so many requests that the committee extended its request deadline until 11:59 p.m. on March 24.

While conservative leaders such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) have recently been joined in the anti-earmark fight by hard-core liberals like Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), both parties are still burdened by leadership invested in the pork process. National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) epitomizes the establishment attitude on earmarks, telling the Washington Post last year: “Oh, I don’t think the problem was spending. People who argue that we lost because we weren’t true to our base, that’s just wrong.”

Whether or not polling shows the American people care about out-of-control pork-barrel spending, they should. Earmarks are terrible for the U.S. because:

  • They Invite Corruption: Congress does have a proper role in determining the rules, eligibility and benefit criteria for federal grant programs. However, allowing lawmakers to select exactly who receives government grants invites corruption. Instead of entering a competitive application process within a federal agency, grant-seekers now often have to hire a lobbyist to win the earmark auction. Encouraged by lobbyists who saw a growth industry in the making, local governments have become hooked on the earmark process for funding improvement projects.
  • They Distort Priorities: Many earmarks do not add new spending by themselves, but instead redirect funds already slated to be spent through competitive grant programs or by states into specific projects favored by an individual member. So, for example, if a mem­ber of the Nevada delegation succeeded in getting a $2 million earmark to build a bicycle trail in Elko in 2005, then that $2 million would be taken out of the $254 million allocated to the Nevada Depart­ment of Transportation (DOT) for that year. So if Nevada had wanted to spend that money fixing a highway in rapidly expanding Las Vegas, thanks to the earmark, they would now be out of luck.

Quick Hits:

  • Iraq’s provincial elections are back on track after Iraq’s three-member presidential council reversed their position and approved legislation that will help reconcile rival factions in the divided government.
  • Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatened the European Union with violence yesterday. Not for the EU’s presence in Afghanistan but for printing cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
  • Many states are keeping double books on high school graduations to skirt federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law.
  • A Silicon Valley entrepreneur will head up the Department of Homeland Security’s new “cyber initiative” team that will coordinate the federal government’s defense against organized cyber attacks.
  • Golfers in San Francisco will have to put up with cavorting frogs and hungry garter snakes thanks to the Endangered Species Act, which forbids Sharp Park Golf Course grounds keepers from draining seasonal lagoons that have become home to the threatened re-legged frog and the threatened San Francisco garter snakes that eat them.