WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Republicans who larded legislation with lawmakers' pet projects when they ran the House have successfully forced Democrats to be more open about Congress' pork barrel ways.
The changes may not have much impact on the government's bottom line. But the hope is that greater sunlight on earmarks will clean bills of the most wasteful of those home district projects.
House GOP leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and about a dozen other Republicans promoted their victory at a news conference even as Democrats said final details still were under discussion.
After two days of bickering, it was clear that Democrats would abandon plans to pass spending bills without allowing foes of earmarks to challenge them in the full House.
Those opponents are now preparing for a long summer campaign to scrutinize spending bills for wasteful earmarks. Each bill will have a list of earmarks and their sponsors; self-appointed overseers promise to pore over supporting documents to weed out the worst pet projects.
``All that will be out in the public,'' Boehner said. ``That in and of itself will go a long way in reducing the number of earmarks that don't pass the straight-face test.''
The GOP victory will not have a substantive effect on the budget or do much to quell lawmakers' efforts to seek public money for specific projects back home.
Never in memory has an effort to kill an earmark in the full House proved successful. Lawmakers do not want to irritate powerful spending barons and put their own earmarks at risk. Also, those who offer such amendments tend to be unpopular.
``I get beat like a rented mule,'' says Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who offers amendments to kill earmarks but never has won a vote.
In fact, the greater impact will come from the Democrats' promise to cut earmarks in half. That is in additional to a one-year freeze on most earmarks imposed by Democrats this year when wrapping up the last budget year's unfinished business.
Republicans this week stalled a homeland security funding bill in protest over a decision by Democrats to skirt House rules aimed at permitting open debates on earmarks.
The House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., had announced that pet projects would not be added to most spending bills before initial debate in the full House. Instead, they were to be added in House-Senate compromise bills this fall when it would be too late to challenge them.
Obey's move caused an uproar that Democrats did not seem to take seriously until it threatened to stall their appropriations agenda and attracted harsh media coverage.
The battle in the House focused on the idea that greater openness about earmarks would help curb lawmakers' excesses.
But the great explosion in earmarking during GOP control of Congress has its roots in efforts by GOP leaders to spread around the favored projects instead of awarding them mostly on senior lawmakers and members of the Appropriations Committee.
The committee is swamped with 32,000 requests. Obey gripes that many House members care more about their earmarks than they do about important policy decisions.
I hate earmarks because they suck everybody in ... into the idea that we have to be ATM machines for our districts,'' Obey said. ``It is a whole lot more important to know whether we have adequately funded education ... than it is to know whether a member got a $200,000 earmark for an afterschool center.''
Earmarks are a small part of federal spending but ``have been a large portion of the culture of spending,'' said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. ``And for a party to run on transparency and accountability in earmarks and to do a complete about face once they took power could not be tolerated.''
In 2005, according to the White House budget office, there were 13,492 earmarks in appropriations bills totaling almost $19 billion. Obey has declined to accept President Bush's estimates as a starting point for determining how many earmarks to include in this year's round of spending bills.
The decision to curb earmarks, enthusiastically embraced by Bush, has lawmakers scrambling to make sure they get their share.
Republicans seeking earmarks will feel a disproportionate squeeze because under long-standing tradition the minority party receives about 40 percent of earmarks.
With final agreement on the House earmark process remaining elusive, Democratic leaders declined to restart debate on a $37.4 billion homeland security measure.