Earmarks, while a tiny sliver of the more than $1 trillion Congress expends every year in discretionary spending, have emerged in the past five years as a key issue of ethics and corruption allegations. While most of these funds are steered toward congressional districts for local projects, critics say earmarks skew the spending process to favor contractors who hire the right lobbying firms and make donations to lawmakers on the appropriations committees.
House Republicans praised the Democrats for taking this key step but are considering swearing off the practice.
They have scheduled a special gathering Thursday to debate whether they are willing, on their own, to not seek any earmarks. Previous efforts by Republicans -- who oversaw the dramatic inflation of the use of earmarks during their 12-year majority -- have failed.
So, who's surprised?
"It's not enough to swear off some of the earmarks that lend themselves to corruption -- we need to get rid of all earmarks if we have any hope of regaining taxpayers' trust," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the foremost opponent of the earmark practices in Congress.
"The Constitution requires us to do our job. Taxation without representation was a big rallying cry. Well, spending without representation would be a problem, too," said Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.