Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 15, 2010

MCCONNELL CAVES ON EARMARKS.... Almost immediately after the midterms, a contingent of Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), set out to prohibit GOP members from using earmarks in the next Congress. Leading the other side was none other than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Publicly, McConnell was insisting (accurately, by the way) that eliminating earmarks would be a meaningless gesture that wouldn't actually save any money. He called the very debate "exasperating." Privately, McConnell was "maneuvering behind the scenes" to defeat DeMint's gambit.

This afternoon, McConnell, apparently unable to persuade the caucus he ostensibly leads, threw in the towel.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a longtime defender of the Congressional authority over federal spending, said on Monday that he would support a proposed ban on earmarks, the lawmaker-directed spending items, in the next Congress.

Mr. McConnell, in his opening speech at the start of the lame-duck session, announced that he was changing his position on earmarks to demonstrate to voters and to his colleagues that he was now firmly committed to reducing government spending.

"I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks," Mr. McConnell said. "I've talked with my members. I've listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents. And what I've concluded is that on the issue of Congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example."

Or to translate this to English, "I've discovered that I don't have the votes to do what I want."

And with that Mitch McConnell, who's used earmarks for years and doesn't want to have to give them up, declared, "Today, I am announcing that I will join the Republican leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress." He acknowledged that the move is "symbolic" and largely counter-productive, but he's doing it anyway to impress voters.

I guess this means, by Sen. James Inhofe's (R-Okla.) standards, McConnell has been "brainwashed" by "liberals," too.

For what it's worth, I should note for context that the moratorium, in addition to leaving spending largely unaffected, also won't stop the Democratic majority from continuing the practice, forcing GOP senators into a position in which they'll have to vote against popular appropriations bills that happen to include earmarks.

Also note, the moratorium won't have the force of law and couldn't be formally enforced -- so Republicans could just go ahead and request earmarks anyway.

It's not exactly heartening that the first major Republican initiative after the elections is largely meaningless, and intended to do little more than improve their standing in the polls.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Well, I'm sure they'll come up with a different name for-otherwise they'll have to work with the Democrats.....hmmm...

Posted by: golack on November 15, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Or to translate this to English, "I've discovered that I don't have the votes to do what I want."

-a further translation- into Republican English- reads: "I've found a way to use this to fuck the Democrats!"

Posted by: DAY on November 15, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen can get as snarky as he wants, but the reality is very simple. Score a point for the Republican base. They have a position. They are standing strong. And a senior GOP Congressional leader is bending to their will.

I dream of the day when the Democratic base exerts equal power over the Dem leadership, who normally respond thusly:

Dem base: We want the Public Option.

Leadership: You can have a trigger.

Dem base: Hey! That's not good enough. It will never be triggered.

Leadership: Fine. You'll get nothing and like it.

Dem base: Okay.

Posted by: square1 on November 15, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

How about:

Democratic Base: We want a public option.

Democratic Leadership: Go fuck yourselves we will give you what the insurance companies have authorized us to give you--who else are you going to vote for?

Democratic Base: No one.

Democratic Leadership: Good.

Democratic Base: You don't understand. We will vote for no one. We will stay home.

Clueless Democratic Leadership: The tea partiers were mad as hell. It seems like each of them voted twice.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 15, 2010 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

I think you're being optimistic. They'll paint those "no" votes as standing up to profligate Democrats who want to pass a bill loaded with earmarks, none of which are Republican. They'll hammer that on Fox until the Dems cave, probably in a couple of news cycles, and foreswear earmarks themselves. This is what Republicans are building for 2012-- a Jumbotron portrait of DEMOCRAT SPENDING OUT OF CONTROL, STOPPED IN THE NICK OF TIME BY REPUBLICANS!

Once again, Dems are being outmaneuvered and don't even realize it.

Posted by: dalloway on November 15, 2010 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

dalloway, you hit it on the head. This will be the first Republican victory in their campaign to destroy Obama. Too bad the Democrats weren't smart enough to get ahead of it.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 15, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are meaningless. They are genetically so, based on scientific evidence that their DNA contains vast quantities of meaninglessness. Because of this, it is biologically impossible for them to reproduce in any way but a meaningless way---and their spawn will be increasingly meaningless, due to the secondary genetic trait that tends toward inbreeding.

Posted by: S. Waybright on November 15, 2010 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

or - the dems in the senate could just not bother with earmarks in any of the spending bills them next year, and take away the "score". Sure, earmarks are silly, but whay spend time on it in the senate?

Besides, won't spending bills come out of the house? And all those nice virginal tea partiers won't let an earmark besmirch the bill ...

Posted by: bigtuna on November 15, 2010 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I'm sure they'll come up with a different name - golack

Bingo! Like "spending limitation provisions".

Posted by: Danp on November 15, 2010 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

If caving on earmarks means continuing to fund earmarks, then why does caving on Social Security mean cutting it?

Posted by: Tom Allen on November 15, 2010 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

My Take,.. Is
JUST SAY YES to EARMARKS for the states 

Republicans destroyed the economy by lax financial regulation coupled with tax cuts for the wealthy which forced great deficits upon the country.  Now they want to cut out the few crumbs congressional members are allowed to give out to help their districts.

 The rich have had a free ride since Reagan when the highest tax rates were cut from 70% to 35%.  Now the country and the economy are in trouble. Earmarks and taxing excessive wealth can help that. It is time the rich pay their fair share. 

There is no reason to give Paris Hilton more Hermes handbags, music industry execs another Mercedes, or Donald Trump additional Rolex watches when people are unemployed, losing their houses, and cannot afford college or health insurance.

An earmark, however, can provide at least a few people with a moderate amount of money to build a library or park or a bridge.  Projects which not only help the economy but also pay dividends over the years by raising the quality of life of local residents.

Please, tell your elected officials you not only oppose the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but would like to see the top rate restored to the pre-Reagan level. The alternative is a continued reliance on selling goods and services to those with too much money, a weak strategy at best - after all one needs only so much Tiffany jewelry.

Additionally please let them know you support earmarks.

It is a secular sin to own a Armani suit worth a thousand meals when almost 1/3 of Arizona kids live in poverty. Tax the excess wealth of the über rich now.  

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on November 15, 2010 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. McConnell, in his opening speech at the start of the lame-duck session, announced that he was changing his position on earmarks to demonstrate to voters and to his colleagues that he was now firmly committed to reducing government spending.

An ending a practice that has no effect on spending demonstrates a commitment to reducing spending...how?

BTW, there will NOT be "a bill loaded with
earmarks, none of which are Republican." There will be bills with some earmarks (less than under a Republican Congress--those guys really set the record), and some of those will be Republican.

Posted by: Daddy Love on November 15, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

It's always about perception. WMD'd, Aluminum Tubes, mushroom clouds, ear marks, etc. So chalk another win for the GOP. Now all of those road and bridge and infrastructure projects that help keep the folks back home employed (or unemployed as this case may be) will be squarely on the shoulders of the GOP.

The Dems should just couch it under those terms: "Largely Symbolic job reduction policies fostered by the GOP to keep the rich richer and the poor, well penniless."

Just wait till all of those small business owners the GOP feign supporting stop getting orders for their gravel, iron, asphalt, etc.

What fun...

Posted by: stevio on November 15, 2010 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

The Dems get all the pork, and the Americans who live on pork wonder what the Republicans are doing for them.


Posted by: Lance on November 15, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

What their pledge really means is they will all get the same earmarks, but blame them on D's.

Posted by: ScottW714 on November 15, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

The vast majority of those earmarked projects will still happen. The difference is, instead of relatively open process where a Congressperson attaches their name to a particular distribution those decisions will move to the Executive branch and the bureaucracy. The deals for those projects will be cut behind closed doors between adminstration officials, congress, department heads and lobbiests.

It will take an open process and lock it up. Denying the public the ability to see and decreasing accountability in spending decisions.

As usual the Tea Party people accomplished the exact opposite of what they wanted. The people manipulating them got exactly what they wanted.

Posted by: thorin-1 on November 15, 2010 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Heck, breaking that promise took less than a week.

You can't argue with the efficiency of GOP hypocrisy.

Posted by: MikeBoyScout on November 15, 2010 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

This Republican food fight will be amusing to watch. Send in more clowns.

Posted by: max on November 16, 2010 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

Earmarks may not have a direct effect on deficits, but they are a means of identifying particular projects (jobs) with incumbents and not "the government", and a form of logrolling. They allow incumbents to claim to be "anti-government spending" while taking credit for benefits in their districts. They encourage more spending, with no particular regard to benefit for the nation as a whole.

Posted by: skeptonomist on November 16, 2010 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Earmarks are also why someone would spend $20 million to get a job that pays about 180K a year (e.g., you can be appointed to the board of multiple foundations that you yourself established with taxpayer dollars, get unbelievable real estate deals from toadies who want you to steer their pirate ship for awhile, lobbying gigs that pay millions per year, etc.). It's one of the Senate's most cherished traditions. I wonder what the over/under is before one of these maniacs accuses Mitch of being a liberal sellout. I'm betting within two months from the beginning of the next session.

Posted by: max on November 16, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK



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