Reid wary of earmark restrictions; defends Congress's constitutional authority

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sounded a cautious note today on banning earmarks, suggesting restrictions could limit Congress's constitutionally-mandated authority.

House Democrats decided last week to place a one-year moratorium on earmarks that go to for-profit companies. House Republicans decided to disavow earmarks altogther.

But Reid suggested today that his caucus is not so keen on adopting the lower chamber's measures.

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"I think that we have to be very, very careful that we don't do this country great harm," he said when asked whether te Senate would ban for-profit earmarks. "Constitutionally, we have an obligation to have congressionally directed funding. That is an obligation we've had since the beginning of this country."

The Constitution mandates that Congress have power over federal spending. Earmarks are directed toward very specific projects and often are inserted into spending bills without being discussed in public hearings. 

Reid suggested that restricting earmarks could lead to Congress losing power over appropriations.

"It would be a shame if we suddenly decided all the spending directions in this country were going to come from the White House," he said. "That would not be good."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also been non-commital on restrictions, saying only that his caucus would discuss the matter.

Nevertheless, Reid said he would discuss possible restrictions with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.