We warned Republicans to get behind a unilateral pork moratorium to ensure they had the high road for 2008. Now it looks as if Nancy Pelosi may try to steal the issue from the GOP by endorsing a one-year moratorium. But how will she get Jack Murtha to agree?

House Democrats are discussing a plan to hijack a signature issue of the opposition party: earmarks.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and senior Democratic aides said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi , other party leaders and their staffs were examining a moratorium on appropriations earmarks. …

An earmark cutoff would be a dramatic change to business as usual. Incumbents would no longer be able to point to such directed spending to demonstrate a local benefit to sending them to Washington.

But it would also co-opt a GOP campaign theme and, despite the potential political handicap to Democratic incumbents, Pelosi is considering the move as a demonstration of fiscal responsibility.

Obviously, this would be good news for porkbusters and for the nation, if Pelosi and Hoyer take this seriously. The earmarking scandals have fully bipartisan pedigrees, and both parties have to be part of the eventual reform. Ending the practice will loosen the hold of lobbyists on the appropriations process and impact the grip of incumbents on their seats, improving the entire electoral process. It might even reduce the costs of elections and the need for 24/7 fundraising.
In fact, all of that makes it less likely that we’ll actually see a moratorium at all. People like James Moran and John Murtha are not going to sit quietly while their Speaker shuts down their ability to bolster their political base during an election year. Pelosi may toy with this idea for a while, but don’t expect the former appropriator to do anything that alienates Murtha or Moran, two powerful members of her caucus.

If she does, though, she could very well steal a march on the GOP. They had the opportunity to make themselves into a reforming party in Washington and to put the Democrats on the defensive. Lost opportunties like these will come back to haunt the Republicans in 2008.