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 McCainClimate change is a GOP issue, too It's Joe Biden's 2020 presidential nomination to lose Meghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' 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 EnziKudos to the legislators trying to fix our broken budget On The Money: Mnuchin signals officials won't release Trump tax returns | Trump to hold off on auto tariffs | WH nears deal with Mexico, Canada on metal tariffs | GOP fears trade war fallout for farmers | Warren, regulator spar over Wells Fargo Budget chairs pick former Bush official to head CBO MORE (Wyo.) and John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' MORE (Texas), and Sens.-elect Pat Toomey (Pa.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE (Ky.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOn The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity MORE (Utah), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Barr throws curveball into Senate GOP 'spying' probe Bipartisan group of senators introduce legislation designed to strengthen cybersecurity of voting systems MORE (Wis.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions What if 2020 election is disputed? Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval 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 McCaskillCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world Big Dem names show little interest in Senate 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 CantorGOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (Va.) is considering an extension when the party assumes power in the chamber next year.