WASHINGTON – In a major victory for tea party activists, the top Republican in the Senate on Monday reversed course and endorsed a moratorium on pork-barrel projects known as "earmarks." Earmarking is the longtime Washington practice in which lawmakers insert money for home-state projects like road and bridge work into spending bills.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he's heeding the message that voters sent in midterm elections that swept Democrats from power in the House. He says he can't accuse Democrats of failing to ignore the wishes of the American people and then be guilty of the same thing.
McConnell's move heads off a battle with conservative Republican senators who had signaled they would force a vote Tuesday on banning the practice. House GOP leaders have already endorsed a ban on earmarking.
"Nearly every day that the Senate's been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people," McConnell said in a surprise announcement in a Senate floor speech. "When it comes to earmarks, I won't be guilty of the same thing."
McConnell, a 26-year veteran of the Senate and longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, had been a strong defender of earmarking, even in a recent speech and a Sunday morning talk show appearance. Then, he had argued that earmarks shift too much power to President Barack Obama and wouldn't save taxpayers any money.
"I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don't apologize for them," McConnell said. "But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight."
Just hours before McConnell spoke, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., promoted the ban in remarks to tea party activists at a Capitol rally.
"Tomorrow, the Republicans in the Senate are going to start answering that question: Have we learned our lesson? Are we going to go a different way?" DeMint said. "If the Senate Republicans fail to pass a ban on earmarks tomorrow, obviously they have not gotten the message."