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Today in Washington – November 17, 2010

The Senate Republican Conference voted to ban earmarks yesterday.  A victory for conservatives — Hold on a second.  Moments after the announcement some Republicans stated that they would publicly flout the rule and Democrats pledged to fight to protect bloated pork barrel spending.  Although the President has pledged his opposition to earmarking, the true test may come soon if Congress sends him an Omnibus spending bill before the end of the year loaded with earmarks.

Today, the House will vote to override the veto of President Obama on H.R. 3808, the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act and nine suspension bills.  The Senate has two cloture votes scheduled on S.3772, The Paycheck Fairness Act; and, S.510, The FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act.  A debate and some amendments are expected on the food safety bill.

Just when conservatives thought they won on earmarks, some Senate Republicans and Democrat Leadership have pledge to fight this idea. 

The L.A. Times Reports:

The vote by the GOP caucus for a two-year moratorium on earmarks is not binding on its members, but it provided an early example of the influence of the conservative “tea party” movement after the midterm election. House Republicans are expected to take a similar step Thursday.  Just eight months ago, a proposal to do away with earmarks was shot down in an overwhelming vote of the Senate that included substantial Republican opposition.  Republican and Democratic supporters of the earmark moratorium said they would push for a floor vote that would be binding on all senators, and a promise from President Obama to veto any spending bill containing earmarks.

Three problems have been identified by conservative opponents of earmarks going forward. 

First is the fact that Senator Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) Amendment to the Senate Republican Conference rules is tough to enforce.  Some Republican Senators are daring the Senate Republican Leadership to sanction them, because they have publicly stated that they are willing to ignore the rules of the Republican Caucus.  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has pledged to request earmarks. 

The Daily Caller reports:

Even as Senate Republicans approved a “moratorium” on congressional earmarks, a small but significant contingent of the caucus is openly vowing to flout the new rules.  Led by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the contingent is “going rogue” against the party’s leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who Monday made a high-profile switch to back the earmark ban.

One would think that the appropriate sanction would be to strip members of seniority until they abide by the rules of the Conference. 

Problem number two is that Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is planning to offer an amendment to the food safety bill to ban earmarks for the whole Senate, yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had pledged to fight to protect pork.  With the exception of a few Democrat Senators, the Democrat caucus seems poised to fight for earmarks, because they want to continue to funnel money to Democrat states for bike paths, museums and buildings. 

According to The Hill:

Democrats defended the age-old practice by noting they had already improved the system’s transparency in 2008 and that they reserved the right to seek funding for their states’ needs. “We have a constitutional obligation and responsibility,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I have an obligation to the people of Nevada.”

This is code for “I am going to protect my right to funnel money into my home state at the expense of states that don’t have as much power as me.”  Senator Reid has indicated that he will use procedural maneuvers to block Senator Coburn from offering the amendment.

Finally, there is the issue of President Obama’s stance on the issue.  President Obama’s has promised to fight Congressional earmarks.  As with many Presidential promises, the President has yet to show a willingness to fight on the issue.  The President has signed appropriations bills containing earmarks in the past.  The test of this promise will be if the President signs spending bills containing earmarks in the future.  The Omnibus spending bill is expected to be loaded with earmarks and may be the first test for the President.  Before the end of the year if the Lame Duck congress sends a bill to the President loaded with earmarks, the President will be expected to veto if he wants to fulfill his earmark promise.

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