Senate Showdown on Earmark Ban

Senators return from their Thanksgiving break today facing an important question: Will they go on a diet from pork?

A handful of Republican and Democrat senators are sponsoring an earmark moratorium that would go into effect immediately and last through fiscal year 2013. It comes just two weeks after Republicans adopted a non-binding proposal to give up earmarks in the 112th Congress.

This time, however, the hurdle is quite high. The measure, which is attached to food safety legislation, will require 67 votes even before senators move to a vote on the amendment.

The earmark ban would apply to all legislation and would create a rule allowing members to raise a point of order against any bill that includes an earmark — or funds designated outside of a “statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process,” according to the definition included in the amendment.

Two longtime anti-earmark crusaders, Sens. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) and John McCain (R.-Ariz.), have teamed with Sens. Claire McCaskill (D.-Mo.) and Mark Udall (D.-Colo.) to sponsor the ban.

The four senators said they were encouraged by the GOP’s embrace of an earmark moratorium. After some internal strife, Republican senators adopted a non-binding two-year ban on Nov. 16. And once the GOP takes control of the House in January, the Republican majority is expected to expand its own moratorium to the entire chamber.

Still, each effort is only a temporary timeout from earmarks until the favor factory can be fixed. Critics won’t be content until they end the earmarking process entirely.

“The time has come for Congress to put a stop to the corrupt practice of earmarking once and for all,” McCain said in a statement.

Added Udall, “The only way we can reform the status quo is if everyone takes responsibility for the problem.”

McCaskill, who has never once requested an earmark, said she’s glad to have allies in the battle against pork-barrel politics.

“I’ve been working to change the earmark culture in Washington since the day I was sworn in, but, frankly, it’s been a lonely fight for senators like Dr. Coburn, Sen. McCain and me until very recently,” McCaskill said in a statement. “It’s encouraging to see so many new faces join this effort over the last few days and I am excited to work with them in finally ending the flawed practice of earmarks.”

The amendment will need more than a few new faces to pass, however. Even before the senators can offer their proposal, they’ll need to find 67 votes to suspend Senate rules.

With several Republicans still clinging to earmarks and even more Democrats unwilling to give up pork, Coburn recognizes the long odds. His spokesman noted that it took five years to convince his Republican colleagues to swear off earmarks. “He’s in this for the long haul,” spokesman John Hart said.

That persistence hasn’t won him many friends on Capitol Hill. But with a new crop of freshmen entering Congress — including 11 incoming senators who supported the GOP moratorium — Coburn and company are hoping to capitalize on the momentum.

Outside of Capitol Hill, voters appear to be on their side.

Pollster Kellyanne Conway’s post-election survey asked voters about their views on earmarks. The results, reported by the group Let Freedom Ring, revealed that Americans want Congress to cut the pork and end earmarking.

The poll showed 62% agree that Congress should end the practice of earmarking. More notable, however, was the fact that self-identified Democrats (55%), Republicans (66%) and independents (73%) all agreed that earmarks had a negative influence on the legislative process.


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