Behold the power of pork, Part MDCLXVII

The GOP has indicated that it will fight to reduce federal spending in the next budget cycle.  What about this budget cycle?  After all, Democrats put off creating a budget for FY2011 (which started on October 1) to avoid having to account for higher spending in the midterm elections.  Republicans could block attempts to pass an omnibus bill and give themselves an early grip on the pursestrings by forcing Democrats to issue a continuing resolution instead of a full budget, which would put the GOP in charge of spending several months ahead of schedule.

That’s a no-brainer, right?  Well …

Republican senators stand to lose nearly $2 billion in project money they requested for their home states if they stick with their leadership and block a year-end omnibus spending bill.

This has given Democratic leaders some hope that they might be able to pick up a few Republican votes to pass new spending legislation for fiscal year 2011.

If Republicans unite behind Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), however, Congress would be forced to pass a stop-gap measure that would likely freeze spending at current levels.

Republicans considered most likely to defect are senior members of the Appropriations Committee who have aggressively pursued federal funding for their constituents.

The House and Senate GOP have more or less unified on a no-pork pledge for the 112th Session, but that apparently won’t apply to the lame duck session of Congress starting this week.  Two GOP retirees and a defeated incumbent seem to have the least amount of reason to abide by the moratorium, Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio, along with Bob Bennett of Utah, who lost in the primary to incoming Senator Mike Lee, in part because of Beltway spending.  Bond’s replacement, Roy Blunt, is more amenable to earmarks, but Voinovich’s successor (Rob Portman) will almost certainly join Lee as a crusader on reform.

This is the reason why pork remains such a problem on Capitol Hill.  It’s not the cash; $2 billion is less than a drop in the bucket on federal spending, as noted earlier on the “pay freeze” Obama will announce today.  It’s the grease that pork applies to the wheels of big-spending bills that creates the corrosion in Washington DC.  Without earmarks, these Senators would probably oppose massive spending bills, especially in omnibus form, and would save many more billions to taxpayers as a result than the $2 billion noted here.

If anything demonstrates the need for earmark reform, it’s precisely this example.