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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not back a moratorium on Congressional earmarks despite growing interest among House and Senate Republicans — as well as the House Democratic leadership — in a one-year freeze on the practice, aides said last week.
A number of Republicans — including House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) — have been pushing the idea of a moratorium on earmarks as a way to foster broader reforms of the system for months. In recent weeks, Democrats in the House and Senate have warmed to the idea.
Reid’s rejection of a moratorium comes on the heels of reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — frustrated by constant attacks on Democrats from Republicans over the earmarking issue — is considering proposing a moratorium to her Caucus this year.
A House Democratic aide familiar with the talks said Pelosi and other leaders are “seriously considering” a number of possible options for imposing an earmark moratorium, although no decisions have been made.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has signed on as a co-sponsor to a DeMint amendment to the budget resolution that would bar the Senate from considering any legislation that includes earmarks. A vote on the amendment is expected this week, and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — the presumptive GOP presidential nominee and a co-sponsor of the proposal — could return to the chamber to participate in the debate, DeMint said last week.
But Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Thursday that despite the sudden interest in the idea of a moratorium among his Democratic colleagues, the Senate leader does not support a hold on earmarks and continues to stand by the practice.
“Sen. Reid shares the bipartisan view that Senators and Members of Congress know their state and district needs better than an unaccountable bureaucrat in Washington. Earmarks have been an important way of helping Nevada meet the strains associated with its tremendous growth — funding police, roads, classrooms and the state’s military bases that play a vital role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Manley said, arguing that Democrats already have reformed the process and that Republicans are simply looking to use the issue as election-year fodder.
“As soon as Democrats took control of Congress, we instituted sweeping reforms to ensure transparency and accountability in earmarking. Earmarks quadrupled under Republican leadership, while Republicans in Congress and President Bush did nothing. Their election-year conversion on the issue is just empty political rhetoric,” Manley said.
Reid joins Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the chamber’s cadre of “Old Bull” appropriators in opposing a moratorium. McConnell, a former appropriator, has long been a vocal advocate of the use of earmarks, and is not expected to support DeMint and McCain in their effort to attach the moratorium to the budget resolution.
Additionally, McConnell’s hand-picked earmark reform task force is not expected to include a recommendation for a moratorium on the practice in its consensus recommendations, which are due March 15.
Meanwhile, FreedomWorks, the conservative 501(c)(4) chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), is kicking off a pledge drive today to get Members of Congress, Congressional candidates and White House contenders to swear off earmarks.
DeMint, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) already have signed the pledge.
The pledge is the centerpiece of FreedomWorks’ overall campaign to limit federal spending and end the earmarking process. Anti-spending activists will be able to download the pledge and monitor progress at the FreedomWorks-sponsored site, earmarkpledge.com.
FreedomWorks is planning a voter education campaign, complete with get-out-the-vote operation, ahead of the November elections.
“It is clear the earmark system is broken, and the FreedomWorks pledge is an opportunity for candidates to show leadership and commitment to reform,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said.