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GOP Ups Ante on Earmarks

A handful of newer Members argued the policy does not go far enough. Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) said he is one of three House Democrats who forgo the projects altogether and favors a blanket ban. And sophomore Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), who is running for Senate, said in a statement he is prepared to force a floor vote on such a prohibition.

But Democratic leaders made clear they view the partial ban as an appropriate compromise between necessary reform and protecting the constitutional rights of lawmakers to direct spending.

“The earmarks do not make a very big difference in the fiscal soundness picture,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday. “It’s important, and we have to find savings wherever we can. But the 3 percent, for example, that probably would still be there is the difference between a president and a king. Members are reluctant to give all the authority — which is vested in the Constitution in the Congress of the United States, the power to appropriate — to yield all of that to the executive branch.”

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, called the announcement a “positive step forward for earmark reform.” But he warned that without similar action from the Senate, “campaign cash will just flow a little more heavily to the Senate side of the Capitol, and for-profit earmarks will remain alive and well.” And Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) signaled little interest in following suit. He said the decision was not in “the best interests of the Congress or the American people.”

House Republicans have discussed the idea of an earmark moratorium several times since they lost the majority in 2006. But the annual and traditionally divisive internal debates have yet to yield any lasting policy changes.

In November 2008, Republicans rejected a proposal offered by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to freeze earmark requests until February 2009.

Boehner created a Republican Earmark Reform Committee and ordered it to develop standards and policies for House Republicans in December 2008.

The 10-member committee never released a report because it could not agree on a set of recommendations.

Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), who served on the committee, said the pressure on Republicans to do something bold was significantly higher than on their Democratic colleagues.

“Right or wrong, fair or not, it is a critical issue — more so for us, far more so for us than for the Democrats,” Brady said.

But other Republicans blasted the proposal. Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio), an appropriator, called it “stupid.”

“It’s all about November,” he said. “I could be OK with that position if it applied to the Senate, to the administration, to transportation, but you know, if this were such a hot issue, [Sen.] John McCain [R-Ariz.]would be president of the United States.”

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