McConnell switches to join other Republicans in voluntary earmark ban

11/15/2010 03:14 PM

After long touting the benefits of “earmarks,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell effectively ended an internal Republican debate over their future on Monday by expressing support for a voluntary ban on the legislative devices.

“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,” McConnell said in a floor speech on the start of Congress’ lame duck session, which started Monday. “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.”

Here’s more from his floor speech:

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.

But McConnell’s speech seems to acknowledge that he was changing positions begrudgingly. As Kentucky’s senior senator, McConnell has run for re-election on what he’s been able to bring back to Kentucky using earmarks — which legislative tags on certain amounts of federal money designated for specific projects or programs.

McConnell, in the past, has said that earmarks help protect that money from any president’s line item veto.

McConnell pointed to work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and the Blue Grass Army Depot as important examples of what he called needed earmarking. At the Paducah plant, McConnell said earmarks lead to cancer screenings of workers there, something McConnell said saved lives. At the depot, McConnell said earmarks are helping with the safe dismantling of chemical weapons.

Since the election, the discussion over legislative earmarks has become an internal tug-of-war among Republicans.

In recent weeks, McConnell has seen stiff public opposition for earmarks from South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who wanted the GOP Senate conference to take an internal vote on the issue. DeMint was joined by Kentucky’s newly-elected junior Senator, Rand Paul.

Last week, Paul said he would not use the earmark as a senator, although he clarified that he was upset at the earmarking process, not how the money is always spent.

And U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents the Fifth Congressional District in Kentucky, has also come out against the earmarking process in his bid to become the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, despite Rogers’ frequent use of earmarks in the past.

A change in public sentiment seemed to be the turning point for McConnell.

“The people have spoken,” McConnell said in his speech. “They have said as clearly as they can that this is what they want us to do. They will be watching.”

-Kenny Colston


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