Reid suggests President Obama 'back off' on earmark ban

But Reid, who has been consistently opposed to eliminating earmarks, argued that giving up earmarks shifts more power to the executive branch, which already includes its own earmarks in the federal budget. 

"But the president thinks this will help him a little bit. You know, more power to him. It's just wrong," Reid said.

"This is an applause line," he said. "It's an effort of the White House to get more power. They've got enough power as it is."

Lawmakers typically use earmarks to designate spending on specific projects in their districts. The practice amounts to less than 1 percent of the $3 trillion-plus federal budget but has gotten negative attention over questionable and even non-existent projects. 

"Short-term, he may win this battle. But it's going to be short-term. It means nothing for the debt," Reid said. 

"I know much more what needs to be done in Elko, Nev., Hawthorne, Nev., Las Vegas, Nev., than some bureaucrat does back here."

Last November, the Senate defeated a proposed ban on earmarks.

House and Senate Republicans have already voted among themselves to ban earmarks in the 112th Congress. 

Even without a formal ban, bills with earmarks might have a hard time getting through either chamber this year, with pressure on to reduce spending on all fronts.