WASHINGTON - Get out the trough, it's feeding time. Congress has decided that an election year with recession written all over it is not the time to be giving up those job-producing "pork" projects bemoaned by both parties' presidential candidates.
As lawmakers returned yesterday from a two-week spring break, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quietly shelved the idea of a one-year moratorium on so-called earmarks, the $18 billion in projects that lawmakers sent to their home states this year.
The California Democrat earlier had signaled her support for the idea of including no legislative earmarks in next year's budget. She pulled back in the face of resistance by Democratic allies after the Senate turned thumbs down by a resounding 71-29 vote in mid-March.
The response to the Senate vote from rank-and-file lawmakers: They sent in so many last-minute earmark requests that a House Appropriations Committee Web site seized up and the deadline for requesting pork had to be extended.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presidential candidate who will head the Republican national ticket this fall, and the GOP leader in the House, John Boehner of Ohio, spent the first two months of this year trying to persuade party colleagues to break their addiction to pet projects for at least a year.
More than three-fourths of House Republicans signed onto the plan, and Ms. Pelosi was obviously getting tired of GOP criticism on the subject.
Even so, Republicans flooded the Appropriations Committee with earmark requests, with many backers of a moratorium taking part.
"My patience is running out on earmarks, I'll tell you that," Ms. Pelosi said March 6. "I don't intend to spend a whole lot of time talking about them."
Mr. McCain's Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, then joined the call for a one-year ban. But the Senate is filled with people who love to earmark, including Republicans such as Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Robert Bennett of Utah, and Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Ted Stevens of Alaska. More than half of Mr. McCain's GOP colleagues abandoned him on the showdown Senate vote two weeks ago.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), a former member of the pork-dispensing Appropriations Committee, also strongly opposed the moratorium, as did all but a handful of Democrats.
Earmarks for road and bridge projects, contracts for local defense companies, and grants to local governments and nonprofits can mean jobs back home. Then there's the political boost that lawmakers running for re-election reap from earmarks.
Lawmakers shouldn't count on delivering too much before Election Day. That's because few if any of the 12 spending bills that carry earmarks are likely to be sent to President Bush before then.