Looking to regain the high ground on ethics reform, House Democrats banned budget earmarks for private companies and dared their Republican counterparts to do the same.

Earmarks make up less than 1% of the total budget; they would have accounted for $1.7 billion in a $3 trillion dollar budget last year. Nonetheless, they have become synonymous with corruption and influence-peddling. So House Republicans may get baited into approving a total ban on earmarks for their entire caucus. They’ll hold a caucus-wide vote on the question today.

As we know, Republican rule is characterized by profit-taking; they’re really not interested in anything else. A caucus-wide earmark ban will get broken within the first five minutes of its enactment.

Of course, there’s a danger for Democrats here as well, especially as the Senate is not inclined to follow the lead of the House:

If the Senate does not follow the House’s lead, that would set up a confrontation between the two chambers, with the Senate including for-profit earmarks in its budget bills and the House excluding them. Negotiators from each body would then have to determine which earmarks, if any, would make it into a final bill sent to the White House for approval.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the Democrat of Hawaii who leads the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday that current restrictions were already working and that “it does not make sense to discriminate against for-profit organizations” by banning earmarks to them. He noted that many nonprofits had powerful lobbying operations to secure earmarks as well.

Transparency in the process, with full votes, probably works better than a ban with a work-around. And earmarks are, er, not really a problem in the large scheme of things. Corporate tax loopholes have robbed the American taxpayer far more than a spending request to fix a school.