Sen. Inhofe on warpath against earmark ban

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is vowing an all-out war within the Senate GOP conference next week to defeat an earmark moratorium that he says unconstitutionally cedes congressional spending power to President Obama.

Inhofe, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, wants to block a proposal by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that would ban earmarks for the incoming 112th Congress. The vote would be by secret ballot, apply only to Senate Republicans and would not have the force of law.

Inhofe concedes that DeMint is likely to get the moratorium passed by the GOP conference, but says he is prepared to give floor speeches that single out DeMint and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (R-Ariz.), another longtime earmark opponent, for hypocrisy.

In a phone interview with The Hill, Inhofe said that the Constitution specifically grants spending power to Congress, and that ceding earmark authority to the executive branch would effectively strip the Senate of its spending power.

“I know politically it’s the dumbest thing for me to say I’m for earmarks, but it would cede authority to President Obama,” Inhofe said. “But McCain and DeMint are not being honest about how they define them. I’ve been ranked as the most conservative member of the Senate, so this is coming from a conservative.

“I have quotes, and I’ll use them on the floor to make sure McCain and DeMint can’t wiggle out of how they define earmarks. This is an Obama-DeMint-McCain effort. … I’ll lose on this, but I want to be on the record.”

Inhofe said it’s not surprising that many of the Tea Party-backed candidates who won election this month are opposed to earmarks, because of how the issue has been portrayed.

“These [earmarks] have been demagogued for two years now,” he said. “It’s been presented in such a way that this is somehow conservative.”

DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said the senator expects the earmark moratorium to pass the conference, and said newly elected members of the 112th Congress would be able to vote on the proposal.

DeMint issued a statement Tuesday that named 10 Republican senators who are publicly backing the earmark suspension. The list included Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (Okla.), John Ensign (Nev.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal On The Money: Fed poised to give Trump boost with rate cut | Parties unable to reach deal in Trump tax return lawsuit | New York opens investigation into Capital One data breach Outgoing Senate Budget chair unveils plans to replace Budget Committee MORE (Wyo.) and John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas), and Sens.-elect Pat Toomey (Pa.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (Ky.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (Utah), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces GOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE (Wis.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteTrump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE (N.H.), many of whom were elected on anti-spending platforms.

The vote pits DeMint, a favorite of the Tea Party, against GOP leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (Ky.), who — like Inhofe — has argued that an earmark ban would do little to control spending while weakening congressional authority.

Inhofe said he has no opposition to other types of congressional spending, such as allocations from the federal Highway Trust Fund, but that DeMint is being hypocritical for trying to secure $400,000 for a port project in Charleston, S.C. 

Denton denied that charge, saying DeMint has not requested any earmark since 2006.

Inhofe said he hasn’t yet reached out to McConnell, who lays out much the same argument in defending earmarks.

“The earmark debate is really about executive-branch versus legislative-branch discretion,” he said in an interview with The Hill this summer. “Are you going to give 100 percent discretion to the president? Are you going to retain some for yourself?

“[An earmark ban] saves no money. The money is saved in the overall aggregate. … I’m in favor of spending less. I’m not in favor of giving any president 100 percent discretion over what we do spend — this one or any other,” McConnell said.

In an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” McConnell acknowledged the issue “has generated some level of controversy within our conference” and suggested that if congressional earmarks were banned, then executive-branch earmarks should be banned as well.

“The stimulus bill that passed last year, the almost a trillion-dollar stimulus bill, was riddled with executive-branch earmarks,” he said. “As you can see, it's a lot more complicated than it appears.”

DeMint has tried and failed several times to pass an earmark moratorium through the full Senate, most notably this past March, when the Senate voted 68-29 against a two-year ban.

Twenty-four Republicans — a majority of the GOP conference — supported DeMint’s move at the time, along with Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Mo.), Russ Feingold (Wis.) and Ted Kaufman (Del.). Kaufman and Feingold will not be serving in the 112th Congress.

House Republicans passed an earmark ban this year in their caucus, and GOP Whip Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington MORE (Va.) is considering an extension when the party assumes power in the chamber next year.