Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, after stating his support for earmarks, has come out to back a moratorium on earmarks among the Senate Republican caucus.
“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 said.
Mr. McConnell said he still had doubts about any step that might increase the authority of the executive branch over federal spending. The Constitution, of course, bestows the power of the purse upon Congress.
“I’m not wild about turning over more spending authority to the executive branch,” Mr. McConnell said. “But I have come to share the view of most Americans that our nation is at a crossroads; that we will not be able to secure the kind of future we want for our children and grandchildren unless we act, and act quickly.”
McConnell is joining the House Republicans who have an earmark moratorium in place for their caucus already and intend on extending it to the full House when they ascend to the majority in January, 2011.
There are some in McConnell’s caucus who have strongly backed earmarks and he may face some division when he brings the moratorium to a vote in his caucus. Sen. Jim Inhofe has publicly backed earmarks and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who looks set to win her write-in bid in Alaska, has made a living off of them. Appropriations Ranking Member Thad Cochran is also a die-hard earmarker.
The next question is what the Senate Democrats do next. With no earmarks coming out of the House, the Senate Democratic caucus will be the only group originating earmarks. Does President Obama, who recently reiterated his criticism of earmarks, side with the Republicans and support a moratorium? There isn’t much of an anti-earmark sentiment within the Democratic base, unlike on the Republican side, to push the lawmakers who love earmarks to act.
The Sunlight Foundation has always supported more transparency in earmarking and we continue to worry that a moratorium could push the practice of congressionally directed spending into less transparent venues.