Earmark Ban Divides GOP Senators

Will Mitch McConnell derail Jim DeMint's plan to cut pork projects?

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Senate Republicans will convene next week in Washington to vote on banning earmarks. The nonbinding resolution, spearheaded by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, is opposed by GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who says a ban would do little to curb wasteful government spending. DeMint, a Tea Party favorite, issued a statement yesterday saying his proposal has the backing of 10 Republican senators, including incoming freshmen Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and Kelly Ayotte, all of whom will be able to vote on the proposition. Will DeMint be able to land additional support for the measure? Is a rift already developing between establishment Republican senators and the Tea Party wing of the caucus? A variety of opinions from around the Web:

  • Tactical Maneuvers FOX's Trish Turner writes that McConnell--wary of his image as a Washington insider--has dispatched Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe as a surrogate for his plan. A favorite of the party's base, Inhofe has mounted a "quiet campaign in conservative conservative circles" explaining why "a vote for DeMint is a vote for Obama, as any targeted spending on the congressional level could easily be redirected by the White House." Turner argues Inhofe's efforts are McConnell's attempt to "provide political cover" for senators so they can vote against DeMint's resolution without offending party activists.
  • Establishment Backing DeMint, for his part, has secured the support of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who also heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Brian Montopoli of CBS News believes Cornyn's backing is a "sign of strength" for DeMint, one that could help sway uncommitted or dubious members of the caucus. "The two men were often at odds during the primary season," notes Montopoli. "DeMint often backed candidates other than those supported by Cornyn's National Republican Senatorial Committee. Many of the Tea Party candidates DeMint backed eventually lost in the general election." Their mutual support makes the case that an earmark ban is both ideologically and politically viable.
  • Tough Spot The Atlantic's Chris Good notes that Republican Senators are in a tricky political position, as House Republicans agreed to a similar proposal earlier this year and President Obama has also said he would support a ban on earmarks. Explains Good:
In March, House Republicans agreed to request no earmarks for one year (though Alaska's Don Young, for instance--the House's longtime earmarks king--requested them anyway), and, now that Republicans control the House, it's plausible that the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee won't allow them in any spending bill--and that, when House and Senate appropriators meet to decide on the final versions of spending bills that have passed in different forms through each chamber, the House side will press to remove Senate-originated earmarks from final bills before they're sent to Obama's desk.

For earmarks to truly disappear, the House and Senate will have to actually pass legislation that bans them. Right now, it appears that such legislation could pass the House, but not the Senate. If Republicans band together against them next week, that calculus changes, and with Obama's pen waiting at the ready, earmarks will sit on the precipice of disappearing.
  • Self-Inflicted Wound The looming showdown between DeMint and McConnell will be an ugly in-house spat of the GOP's own making, contends Adam Serwer in The Washington Post. While earmarks constitute less than one percent of the government's budget, Republicans running for office took the position that slashing pork projects would be a cure-all. As a result, "they've managed to get into a heated argument among themselves over whether or not to cut a miniscule part of the federal budget." Serwer believes the entire issue is "a swamp of Republicans' own making. If they hadn't spent so much time convincing their base that earmarks are a huge part of government spending, they wouldn't be so fixated on them."
  • Tone Deaf Allahpundit of conservative blog Hot Air is surprised McConnell is working so hard against DeMint's efforts. The resolution doesn't mean anything. "It’s basically a symbolic battle against waste," the blogger notes, "with DeMint wanting to signal to Republican voters that the new GOP is serious about spending and McConnell fretting that if they don’t keep the pork coming, voters will hold it against them in 2012. Given that we’re exactly one week removed from the election and endless GOP stump speeches about 'learning our lesson,' it’s worth letting DeMint win this one, no?"
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