McConnell-DeMint standoff over earmark vote heats up

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010 at 6:15 pm

For a nonbinding resolution, Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) proposal that Republican senators give up earmarks in the 112th Congress is generating a lot of controversy. Politico reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been busy expressing his concerns with the idea in public and lobbying quietly to defeat the measure behind closed doors, risking open conflict with the Tea Party in the process.

In a series of one-on-one conversations with incoming and sitting senators, McConnell is encouraging his colleagues to keep an open mind and not to automatically side with DeMint, whose plan calls on Senate Republicans to unilaterally give up earmarks in the 112th Congress, according to several people familiar with the talks.

While McConnell is not demanding that rank-and-file Republican senators vote against the earmark ban, he’s laying out his concerns that eliminating earmarks would effectively cede Congress’ spending authority to the White House while not making a real dent in the $1 trillion-plus budget deficit. And McConnell is signaling his concern about the awkward politics of the situation: even if the DeMint moratorium passes, Republican senators could push for earmarks, given that the plan is nonbinding and non-enforceable.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), for one, is siding with McConnell. “They should quit worrying about this phony issue,” he told Politico.“The ban doesn’t accomplish anything.”

But if the issue is so insignificant, others on the right are wondering why McConnell is risking a fight over it so soon after the election of six new Republican senators, many of whom ran on an explicitly anti-earmark platform. From the conservative blog Hot Air:

Again, the fact that the resolution’s nonbinding and that tea partiers like DeMint will continue to speak out against earmarks anyway means that there’s virtually nothing to be gained by McConnell in opposing the measure. He’s still going to infuriate the base if he continues to earmark; he simply won’t be in technical violation of any “sense of the caucus” resolution if he does it. In fact, Rand Paul has already reminded his supporters that he’ll have no problem demanding Kentucky’s fair share of pork so long as it’s appropriated through normal procedural means, not snuck into a bill at the last moment. Which is yet another reminder that this is mainly a symbolic measure, so why not get behind it? Especially since opposing this measure is apt to intensify calls for McConnell to be replaced as minority leader — possibly with Jim DeMint. I don’t get it.

The addition of new faces like Senators-elect Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) should be sufficient, in theory, to give the proposal enough votes, assuming all the Republican senators who voted for a similar DeMint plan in March do so again. But we already know that won’t be the case, because Sen. McConnell was among those voting for DeMint’s proposal the last time it was raised. And because the ballot on Tuesday will be secret, a number of GOP senators might feel less pressure to vote for the measure than they would were the vote to be held in the open.

Follow Jesse Zwick on Twitter


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