Pork Chop

The Senate should seriously consider the latest effort to wean Congress from pork- barrel spending.

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona recently introduced a rules amendment that would require the full Senate to review "earmarked" budget items. Earmarked funds are dedicated for a specific program or purpose but bypass the usual committee vetting and prioritizing process. They are usually inserted in an appropriations bill by the Appropriations Committee chairman at individual members' behest.

Under the McCain proposal, a senator could object to an earmark by raising a point of order. That would require 60 senators to vote to keep the pork project in the bill.

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Such a move is long overdue. Far too many appropriations skirt the normal review process. Take the recently passed $369 billion defense spending bill, which included $2.5 million for a canola-oil research project in Minnesota. (Sen. Norm Coleman [R] of Minnesota argued that given the need to explore alternative fuels, the project was a national-security issue.)

Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has already promised to filibuster the McCain resolution. Not surprisingly, Senator Stevens won the July Porker of the Month award from Citizens Against Government Waste, a budget watchdog group. Stevens and colleagues on both sides of the aisle have long stuffed appropriations bills full of special projects for their states.

Many of these earmarked items are worthy projects. That's not the point: The public would be better served by a more straightforward and transparent process - one in which congressional committees weigh each project on its own merits and set priorities during this time of budget deficits.

And voters can more readily hold their representatives accountable when the public's business is conducted in the open.

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