A bipartisan effort to permanently ban earmarks has split Republicans, putting a large group of them at odds with GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.
The Senate legislation, which could be voted on soon, presents an awkward position for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE (Ky.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.
Asked about the leader’s position, an aide to McConnell replied, “He hasn’t said yet but will let you know when he does.”
McConnell has shown a fondness for earmarks during his career, touting the pet projects he secured for his home state.
A spokeswoman for Romney’s campaign said Tuesday that the former Massachusetts governor is in favor of a permanent earmark ban.
The Senate adopted a moratorium on earmarks before the start of the 112th Congress, but a perpetual ban is a considerably more serious prospect because it would permanently limit lawmakers’ power.
Romney has supported an effort by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and other conservatives to eradicate earmarks. The candidate used his leadership PAC in 2010 to circulate an online petition supporting an earmark ban.
On the campaign trail, Romney has sought to highlight former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) record on earmarks. Along with Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Overnight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal Senate lawmakers eye hearing next week for Air Force secretary: report MORE (R-Ariz.), Romney has blasted the White House hopeful as the “granddaddy of earmarks” in an effort to revive his campaign after it floundered in South Carolina. McCain endorsed Romney last month.
The earmark issue is coming to a head because Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support Overnight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE (D-Mo.) have offered an amendment to the pending Stock Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act that would establish an everlasting earmark prohibition in the upper chamber. They say such a ban is important to consider along with underlying legislation that would prohibit insider trading because both proposals are designed to safeguard against corruptive influence.
Toomey and McCaskill are forcing the debate as earmarks have re-emerged as a hot political topic in this election year.
Some lawmakers question whether Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE (D-Nev.) will schedule a vote on the Toomey-McCaskill amendment. They suspect Reid and McConnell would be happy to let the issue die without a vote.
“I hope we get a vote on this amendment,” McCaskill said Tuesday afternoon. “I am not optimistic about that because typically — I mean, let’s just be honest — the vast majority of the leadership in this body has typically been appropriators.
“Many of them want to go back to earmarking,” said McCaskill, who is facing a challenging reelection contest in 2012.
A permanent earmark ban is a touchy subject for Reid as well as McConnell. While far fewer Democrats support a continuous ban, President Obama has supported ending the practice.
In last year’s State of the Union address, Obama vowed to veto any bill that included earmarks. House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE (R-Ohio), meanwhile, has never accepted an earmark. Defying Republican appropriators, BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE has implemented an earmark moratorium in the House.
Reid delivered a staunch defense of earmarks Tuesday.
“I’ve done earmarks all my career, and I’m happy I’ve done earmarks all my career. They’ve helped my state and they’ve helped different projects around the country,” Reid told reporters.
“And I repeat I will not stand by and be driven down this path that is one that I think is taking us away from what the Founding Fathers wanted, three separate but equal branches of government,” he said. “I do not believe that the White House has the authority to tell me how I should spend money in Nevada.”
Reid last year predicted that earmarks will return at some point.
Some Republicans are also looking forward to that day.
“I’m not a big fan of taking all the power and putting it in the executive branch. I’m looking for reform of the earmark process, not locking the executive branch into spending every dollar forever,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump tweets promotion for Fox News show GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill McCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration MORE (R-S.C.).
Another Republican senator who requested anonymity acknowledged that an earmark ban polls well, but said he would vote against it because it treads on Congress’s prerogative to make spending decisions.
“We haven’t talked about in conference. We prefer not to talk about it,” said the lawmaker.
Six sitting Republican senators voted in the 111th Congress against considering a three-year earmark moratorium: Sens. Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill Shutdown politics return to the Senate MORE (Miss.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote MORE (Maine), James InhofeJames InhofeRepeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate GOP senator: EPA 'brainwashing our kids' A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Okla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiElle honors 10 at annual 'Women in Washington' event Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote MORE (Alaska) and Richard Shelby (Ala.).
Some prominent Republicans think the earmark moratorium should be lifted. They argue that it would help promote bipartisanship in the Senate by giving lawmakers more incentive to support various bills.
“We had earmarks to help lubricate the process and I hope someday we’ll find a way to come back to that,” said former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) during an event sponsored earlier this month by the Bipartisan Policy Center.