Next Tuesday, the Senate Republican Conference will vote on Senator Jim DeMint's (R-SC) amendment to the conference rules to ban earmarks for two years. Some Senators are saying that they are going to hold their powder dry until they look at all the options on the table at the Conference next week. That is not what the rules of the Republican Conference envision and allow. All amendments to the rules must be shared a week before the meeting pursuant to conference rules. It is important to note that there is no rule that prohibits members from publicly announcing support or opposition to DeMint's idea.
According to Politico, the current vote total is very close with many members wavering:
On Wednesday, there appeared to be 14 definite votes in favor of the moratorium – and 13 against it, according to those tracking the vote. Seven senators are leaning toward backing the measure, 11 appear as likely “no” votes. It’s far from clear where three others will come down.
As of yesterday, the DeMint proposal did not have the votes to pass the conference. This is ironic, because a majority of Senate Republicans voted for Jim DeMint's two year earmark moratorium on the Senate floor on March 16, 2010. Senators who refuse to answer a direct question whether they are going to vote in favor of this measure, or say they want to "weigh all the options" are probably going to oppose DeMint.
The Senate Republican Conference rules mandate that members have to distribute proposed rules changes in advance of the meeting, then they are voted upon. Specifically, the rules require advance notice (which DeMint was required to give for his resolution), so that all Senators can give consideration to the proposals before a vote. Senators don’t get to roll into the Conference meeting and spring a resolution on the Conference. You can't just show up with a resolution and say “Let’s vote on this.” That is not allowed.
Specifically the Senate Republican Conference rule states:
VIII. These rules may be amended at any time by a majority vote of the Conference, provided notice of the amendment has been given at least one week in advance to every member of the Conference that action will be sought upon the subject to be covered by the amendment (emphasis added)
According to Politico, one Senate Republican was asked if he was going to vote for the DeMint resolution and he said:
I want to see everything that comes up. I don’t know how many different proposals we’re going to have.
The problem with this statement is that any amendment to the Conference rules should have been shared already with members. The meeting is next Tuesday. If they have yet to be shared, then they are not to be considered by the conference. The only rule on the table is the DeMint amendment to the Conference rules.
It is possible that somebody is going to try to amend DeMint's proposal during the conference meeting, yet that language and plan has yet to be shared with other Senators. Maybe there is a secret amendment to the DeMint plan that has yet to be shared with all members. The evasive answers by many Republicans pointing to other secret proposals can't be a coincidence.
Another Senate Republican also said that he needed to see all options according to Politico.
Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the No. 2 GOP senator in leadership, won’t make any earmark requests this year and didn’t last year. But his spokesman said the senator would wait until next week to view all the ideas on the table before taking a position on the moratorium.
Various new proposals popping up after the notice deadline do not seem consistent with the rules. Also, one could vote for the DeMint proposal and other conference reform amendments. The many Senators dodging direct questions about the DeMint Amendment is a danger sign for those who want to see Congress end pork barrel politics.
Wesley Denton, Spokesman for Senator DeMint told Politico:
Republicans in the House and Senate have an opportunity stand against the earmark favor factory next week and unite to fight for an end to pork barrel spending for the entire Congress. This is an important issue for voters in the last election and we’re hopeful it will pass.
This really should not be a tough issue for members. I have argued in the past that President Obama has set a trap to paint Republicans as big spending earmarkers. I have further argued that it is a myth that earmarking does not waste federal monies. If Senate Republicans are still so in love with special interest projects that they can't even take a two year break from the wasteful and corrupting practice of earmarking, maybe the Tea Party should take a break from some of them.
The million dollar question about the Tea Party movement is whether they will integrate themselves into the Republican Party or whether they will split off into a new formal political party - the Tea Party. If the Tea Party movement breaks off into a third party, Republicans can thank Senate Republican Leadership for helping to alienate them by defeating Jim DeMint's common sense proposal.