Earmarks popular when different governing parties in power

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Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), walks past someone in a pig costume during a news conference on April 14, 2010 in Washington, D.C. The news conference was held to release the annual '2010 Congressional Pig Book', which is a report on pork barrel spending in the federal budget.

Newly-elected Republican members of Congress want to ban earmarks. They're the extra money for pet projects that get tacked onto bigger bills. The push is counter-intuitive in an era when the House and the Oval Office are controlled by different parties.

Earlier this month, GOP senators made a non-binding pledge to ban what they call “pork barrel spending.”

But Senate historian Donald Ritchie says that’s unusual in an era when the House will be controlled by Republicans and there’s a Democrat in the White House. Ritchie says members of Congress not in the president’s party often use earmarks to claim a piece of the budget pie — and here's why.

He says, "There was a feeling that the president’s administration was not as concerned about their particular state as he was perhaps about the states that he won in the last election and the districts that he was likely to win in the next election."

The Senate is expected to vote on a two-year moratorium on earmarks before it adjourns for the year.

This is the second part in a series looking at the history of congressional earmarks.

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