McConnell Reverses Course, Pledges Support for GOP Earmark Ban

By Josh

Nov 15, 2010 2:41pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports: The top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell today changed his stance and vowed to support an effort by other GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate to implement a party ban on earmarks, the special projects members of Congress insert into spending bills. “I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor today as Congress reconvened for a lame-duck session set to focus on spending and taxes. “And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government,” he said. “That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.” The earmarks issue has highlighted a divide within the Republican party. Leading the anti-pork charge has been Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who has been joined by other Tea Party-aligned members. But old guard members such as McConnell had opposed the ban, on the grounds that it would “save no money” and give the executive branch “a blank check” to decide where federal money gets spent. “Every president, Republican or Democrat, would like to have a blank check from Congress to do whatever he chooses to do,” McConnell told the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington earlier this month. “You could eliminate every congressional earmark and you would save no money,” he argued, even though the anti-spending group Citizens Against Government Waste said Congress had earmarks totaling $16.5 billion in fiscal year 2010. But now, faced with a growing number of his own party’s lawmakers getting behind the ban, the Kentucky lawmaker’s stance has changed. “I’m not wild about turning over more spending authority to the executive branch, but I have come to share the view of most Americans that our nation is at a crossroads,” McConnell said today. “That we will not be able to secure the kind of future we want for our children and grandchildren unless we act, and act quickly. And that only way we will be able to turn the corner and save our future is if elected leaders like me make the kinds of difficult decisions voters are clearly asking us to make.” “Banning earmarks is another small but important symbolic step we can take to show that we’re serious, another step on the way to serious and sustained cuts in spending and to the debt.” The GOP vote, expected on Tuesday afternoon, will be conducted by secret ballot and will be non-binding, so senators would not have to follow through on it. But one Republican senator – Tom Coburn of Oklahoma – today said he will try to force Democrats to cast a vote on the earmark issue by pushing for a full Senate vote on the ban as soon as possible. Such a vote could come as soon as Wednesday when the Senate may vote on a food safety bill that they have been sitting on for over a year and a half. “No bill should move before senators vote on this matter, particularly a bill that continues the borrow-and-spend status quo voters rejected,” Coburn said in a statement today. Both parties have long used earmarks to direct money to their districts, with members of the appropriations committees in both chambers particularly eager to continue the process so they can keep directing money to favored causes. But now the long-standing use of earmarks appears in jeopardy.

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