Sens. Toomey, McCaskill stir pot with proposal for permanent earmarks ban

Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) will team up on Wednesday to unveil legislation that would permanently ban earmarks in appropriations bills.

The move sets up a potentially major conflict within both the Republican and Democratic parties next year.

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Congress is operating under a temporary, unofficial ban on earmarks through the end of the 112th Congress next year and many appropriators miss the opportunity to direct funding to home states and districts.  

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not yet made clear to party members where he stands on Toomey-McCaskill, according to sources, but he has been a champion of earmarks in the past.

Reid voted with 55 other senators from both parties to oppose an official two-year moratorium on earmarks in late 2010. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), another longtime user of earmarks, voted in favor of the two-year moratorium but has not yet made clear whether he can support a permanent ban.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has repeatedly said that earmarks should be brought back if transparency can be enforced.

In contrast, moderate senators favor abandoning pork. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) voted last November to put a moratorium in place.

An aide said that McCaskill and Toomey are just starting their effort to build support for a permanent ban and said they are not pushing for a vote anytime soon.

An aide who opposes the ban said senators are already chaffing under the temporary ban.

The aide also worried that the McCaskill-Toomey effort would complicate an already difficult December calendar for the Senate during which Reid will try to move a $900 billion omnibus spending bill devoid of earmarks.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense predicted that the ban will be a “tight vote,” given the bad reputation that earmarks have gotten.

The legislation to be unveiled would ban earmarks by creating a point of order against any bill that contains an earmark and that point of order could only be waived by a vote of two-thirds of the Senate.