It's now time to put an end to earmarks

Voters' strong support for candidates who railed against earmarks has shifted the political landscape. Funding pet projects in secret is wrong.

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Earmarks - the clandestine way members of Congress insert funding in legislation for pet projects - are on the ropes.

Voters delivered a body blow to the way in which pork is distributed when they gave strong support to candidates who campaigned vigorously against the earmark process.

Until then, many Democrats and Republicans had bad mouthed the earmark practice but continued to use it, defending earmarks as the way business is done in Congress. Much of the chatter from members of Congress - on both sides of the political aisle - has been hypocritical. These folks had the power to do do something about wasteful pork-barrel projects yet did nothing more than talk about it.

A few lawmakers, such as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, vowed to not use earmarks, but most argued the ends - money for their state or district - justified the means.

This was clearly the case among the leaders in each party.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was a staunch defender of earmarks. He argued doing away with the process wouldn't save much money (in comparison to the total amount of cash spent by the federal government) and would give too much power to the president, who has veto power.

But this week, as the conservative tide that swept Republicans into office sank in, McConnell did a 180 flip. He got behind a nonbinding moratorium on earmarks. Others followed and the resolution was approved by the GOP senators.

The move leaves Senate Democrats as the final defenders of the earmark system.

We have no problem with members of Congress getting behind budget requests that are a wise use of taxpayers dollars even if the projects do benefit their districts or state.

But those requests should be made in the open so the merits can be debated.

It's the quid pro quo backroom deals that are distasteful.

Ending earmarks isn't going to end deficit spending.

Still, saving billions of dollars a year is significant.

In 2005, for example, $27 billion was spent on 14,000 projects approved with some legislative magic as part of the secretive earmark process.

Ending earmarks also sends a message. It's a symbol Congress is serious about reducing deficit spending.

Now is the time to put on the full-court press to end earmarks.

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