Sen. Inouye bows to earmark ban

The Senate’s foremost proponent of earmarks bowed to the prevailing winds Tuesday and said the Appropriations Committee would accept a two-year ban on the spending projects. 

“Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the spending panel. 

Inouye has long supported earmarks, and he made it clear in his statement that if it were up to him, the projects would continue. But with President Obama promising to veto any bills with earmarks and House Republicans adopting a ban, Inouye said the writing was on the wall. 

“I continue to support the constitutional right of members of Congress to direct investments to their states and districts under the fiscally responsible and transparent earmarking process that we have established,” he said.

“However, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. The president has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them,” he said. 

The earmark ban applies to the current spending year and to fiscal 2012. 

Inouye signaled the issue will be revisited next year, when lawmakers will determine if there are more ways to improve the process and make it more transparent. 

Sounding a note of defiance, Inouye said this would be done because it is important to protect “our rights as legislators to answer the petitions of our constituents, regardless of what the president or some federal bureaucrat thinks is right.”

Inouye’s acceptance of a moratorium on earmarks completes a victory for House Republicans and President Obama, and leaves Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as an odd man out. 

Reid criticized Obama for promising in his State of the Union address last week to veto bills with earmarks, stating that the president already had enough power. 

Inouye said his committee would review earmark policy to come up with a definition for the spending. 

The end of earmarks will make it tougher for lobbyists, though budget experts say interests and lawmakers will still find ways to direct spending to favored projects. For example, “letter-marking” and “phone-marking,” in which lawmakers contact agency officials to ask that spending be directed to certain projects, is expected to continue or even increase.