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Today's Special: Pork. And Tomorrow's.

Barefoot in the pork: Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) gets defensive with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), below.
Barefoot in the pork: Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) gets defensive with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), below. (By Ken Cedeno -- Bloomberg News)

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

There is an unwritten rule in Congress: Don't touch another man's earmarks.

You support my Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, I'll support your New York goose-control program. You vote for my North Carolina Teapot Museum, I'll vote for your Seattle sculpture garden. Give me my beach nourishment, you can have your parking garage.

This is how it all works in the Capitol -- which explains why the number of earmarks for pet projects has quintupled in a decade, to about 15,000 a year.

The truly excellent earmarker can make a career of it, as demonstrated by Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), the "cardinal" who presides over the powerful Appropriations defense subcommittee. He secured more than $200 million for his pet projects in the 2006 fiscal year alone, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.

For reasons unfathomable to most of his colleagues, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) saw something wrong with this arrangement. So last week, he did something crazy: He tried to take away one of Murtha's earmarks.

The earmark in question was a $23 million gift to the National Drug Intelligence Center, which happens to be in Johnstown, Pa., in Murtha's district. Rogers, a former FBI agent, tried to strike Murtha's money with a "motion to recommit." Naturally, it failed. Murtha kept his earmark -- and Rogers got his ears cuffed.

According to Rogers's account -- which Murtha has not disputed -- the Pennsylvanian approached his colleague on the House floor last Thursday and said, in a loud voice: "I hope you don't have any earmarks in the defense appropriation bill, because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever."

"This is not the way we do things here," the naive man from Michigan responded. "And is that supposed to make me afraid of you?"

Murtha raised his voice further, pointed his finger and told Rogers: "That's the way I do it."

Never mind that Murtha's threat was hollow: By tacit agreement between the parties, Murtha controls only the Democratic earmarks and lets the ranking Republican on the committee, Bill Young of Florida, handle GOP earmarks. A seething Rogers returned to the House floor on Monday night to introduce a resolution declaring Murtha guilty of an ethics violation.

Apparently, the credulous Rogers took seriously the quaint provision in the Code of Official Conduct stating that a member "may not condition the inclusion of language to provide funding for a Congressional earmark . . . on any vote cast by another member." "There's not going to be any more go-along-to-get-along, 1950s-style American politics around here," Rogers told The Post's Jonathan Weisman. "I've had enough."

Maybe Rogers has had enough, but it is the considered sense of the House that the "go-along-to-get-along" method has merit.


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