Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has just announced his support for the proposed House moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress. In a press release this afternoon, McConnell said:
“Bringing about real change is hard work. It requires elected officials — whether they’re in their first week or their 50th year in office — to challenge others and, above all, to challenge themselves to do things differently from time to time, to question, and then to actually shake up the status quo in pursuit of a goal or a vision that the voters have set for the good of our country.
I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. 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. 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. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.
Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. 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. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.
That’s why 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.”
McConnell’s previous objections to the earmark ban were based on his concern over Executive Branch control of spending, and a belief that focusing on earmarks might distract from an overall emphasis on general spending reductions. He maintained that eliminating earmarks would not save any money per se, and worried that it would represent a surrender of Congressional influence over spending, saying “every president would like for us to appropriate all the money and send it to them and let them spend it any way they want to.”
As he points out in his press release, McConnell is deferring to immense public pressure against earmarks, without abandoning his concerns:
“Republican Leaders in the House and Senate are now united on this issue, united in hearing what the voters have been telling us for two years — and acting on it.
This is no small thing. Old habits aren’t easy to break, but sometimes they must be. And now is such a time. With a $14 trillion debt and an administration that talks about cost-cutting, but then sends over a budget that triples the national debt in 10 years and creates a massive new entitlement program, it’s time for some of us in Washington to show in every way possible that we mean what we say about spending.
With Republican leaders in Congress united, the attention now turns to the President. We have said we are willing to give up discretion; now we’ll see how he handles spending decisions. And if the president ends up with total discretion over spending, we will see even more clearly where his priorities lie. We already saw the administration’s priorities in a Stimulus bill that’s become synonymous with wasteful spending, that borrowed nearly $1 trillion for administration earmarks like turtle tunnels, a sidewalk that lead to a ditch, and research on voter perceptions of the bill.”
House Republican leaders are scheduled for a conference vote on adopting a self-imposed earmark ban tomorrow, an effort which now enjoys Senator McConnell’s support, along with promises that a similar vote will be held among Senate Republicans.