Can pork serve the greater good?

President Obama, who campaigned against earmarks, is about to sign a $410 billion spending bill containing 8,570 of lawmakers’ personal pork projects. The watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense says the earmarks add up to $7.7 billion.

The cost of the earmarks is only a small percentage of the bill, but it is symbolic of the larger question of Congress’ openhanded generosity with the taxpayers’ money. And while the individual projects — cricket control in Utah, rodent control in Hawaii, trade centers in Montana and Myrtle Beach, S.C., to name a few in the bill — may indeed be worthwhile, they avoid normal legislative scrutiny.

So, technically, the president will violate a campaign pledge by signing this bill, which the House approved last week and the Senate will approve as early as this week. But Obama deserves a pass — just this once.

The measure is an omnibus bill, meaning several bills rolled into a single large bill, containing all the work Congress failed to do in the waning days of the Bush administration. The bill will fund government operations for fiscal year 2009, which is almost half over. A veto would only mean Congress would have to redo work it has already taken lawmakers this long to complete.

Peter Orszag, Obama’s budget director, said over the weekend, "We want to just move on. Let’s get this bill done, get it into law and move forward." And, the White House points out, the bills over which Obama has had some say — the $787 billion stimulus plan, the $32.8 billion child-health measure — have been earmark-free.

The $410 billion measure is, as the White House says, last year’s business, so the president gets a pass. But don’t let it get to be a habit.