At the beginning of the 110th Congress, there was a lot of talk about reining in the excesses of earmarking. But somewhere between the January euphoria and now, Senate appropriators dropped it from the list of priorities. The Senate FY08 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education bill contains 1,038 earmarks at a cost of more than $562.9 million. Okay, so the FY05 Labor-HHS bill had 3,000+ earmarks -- but that was when the bill was signed into law. There's a lot of time between now and when the new earmark-laden bill gets enacted. Our experience is that bills don't get lighter in conference -- just the opposite, in fact.

It's hard to figure out the biggest winners in this bill -- Subcommittee Chairman Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Specter (R-Pa.) both feathered their respective nests. Sen. Harkin pulls in 51 earmarks worth $37.9 million, including $7.5 million for the Iowa Department of Education to fund the "Harkin" grant program. Sen. Specter shows that despite no longer being chairman, he still knows how to bring home the bacon with 184 earmarks worth $19.8 million -- that's more than 17% of the total number of earmarks heading to PA. But Sen. Inouye (D-Hawaii) -- senior appropriations -- gets the highest dollar amount at $71.6 million, including the bill's single most expensive earmark, $34.5 million for "Education of Native Hawaiians." Not to be outdone, Sen. Stevens (R-Ala.) racked up $64.1 million through 40 earmarks. To check out all the earmark winners take a look at

It is less clear if Congress will hold to their promises to halve the number and cost of earmarks. House appropriators have been making strides on the bills they have considered so far. The Senate, on the other hand, seems to be earmarking like it's 2005. July will be the litmus test, and we will be watching closely.