House Republicans seek to trump Democrats on enacting earmark reform

Seeking to trump Democrats, House Republicans on Thursday approved a moratorium on all earmarks for the rest of the year.

The Republicans’ moratorium appears to be more extensive than the ban instituted by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) on Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Obey earmark ban applies to for-profit companies, while the GOP moratorium is for all types of earmarks. But it remains unclear how long these moratoria will last. 

Obey indicted earlier this week that his policy changes “are intended to be a long-term proposition.” The House GOP ban is for the rest of 2010.

The Republican earmark suspension, which Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been pushing for years, was passed by a “strong” voice vote, according to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas).

The vote came during a nearly two-hour-long House GOP conference meeting.

It was the first time House Republicans had brought the matter to a vote, and a significant triumph for Boehner, who does not seek earmarks.

However, Boehner’s cause got a significant boost by way of Obey’s move, which did not sit well with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). 

Worried that Democrats were grabbing the higher ground on earmarks, Boehner convinced his colleagues to pass a broad earmark moratorium on Thursday.

During the GOP reign of the House between 1995 and 2006, the amount of earmarks increased dramatically. The earmark explosion, coupled with the Republican penchant for government spending in those dozen years, infuriated the base of the party and played a role in Democrats’ taking control of Congress in 2007.

In an interview on Fox News House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) hailed the decision. 

“Republicans did something very dramatic [Thursday] that’s going to make it very uncomfortable for business as usual,” he said. “So now House Republicans are going to the American people and saying we want a clean break from the runaway spending [of] the past. And that’s going to be quite a contrast from this Congress and the administration.”

It is unclear if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an appropriator who is fond of earmarks, will follow Boehner’s lead. 

Hours after House Republicans adopted their moratorium on Thursday, McConnell decided to schedule a conference with GOP senators to discuss the matter next week. 

According to a GOP leadership aide, McConnell broached the idea of adopting an earmark moratorium at an informal lunch with his colleagues.

In 2008, as he faced a challenging reelection race, McConnell was not shy in touting earmarks he brought home for his state.

The Senate Republican leadership staffer said GOP senators will focus on the issue, noting that they “don’t have to do it the same way the House did.”

Asked about what the Senate Democratic Conference will do, if anything, on earmarks, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “This is something that Sen. Reid will take a look at and discuss with his caucus.”

Like McConnell, Reid, who is facing a tough reelection race in November, has shown an affinity for earmarks.

Some Senate Democrats on Thursday noted that they already passed rules requiring greater transparency for earmarks, such as posting them on the Web and banning secretive earmark additions.

“We’ve done earmark reform already in the Senate, and the process is working pretty well,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). “The concern people had was that there had been a lot of mischief going on [with] appropriations, but you can’t do that in the Senate anymore.”

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), an appropriator, said Democrats don’t want to restrict their funding power any more than they already have.

In 2008, the Senate soundly defeated an earmark moratorium amendment crafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The measure, which failed 29-71, was supported by then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) 

Some Senate Republicans applauded the House GOP’s vote on Thursday. 

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) offered a one-year moratorium on earmarks on the Senate floor as the House Republicans were taking their vote. Meanwhile, McCain complimented the House GOP’s decision in a Twitter post.