Senate Republicans are headed for a showdown over earmark reform in the lame-duck session, with Senators on both sides of the issue preparing for combat on the floor and within the GOP Conference.
Sen. James Inhofe said last week that he plans to stand up for earmarks and take on anti-earmark crusaders in his own party when Congress returns after the November elections.
“I’m trying not to hurt any of my fellow conservatives, but after the election, [I’ll be] spending whatever time necessary on the floor to end this whole thing about earmarks,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
Asked to clarify Tuesday, Inhofe said he plans a series of floor speeches to serve as “an education to let people know what the truth is, what the real issue is. It’s a phony issue, and it’s one somebody has to tell the truth about instead of just trying to demagogue it.”
Meanwhile, fellow Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said Tuesday that he plans to try to push an earmark moratorium vote on his caucus in the near future, perhaps next year. During the lame duck, Coburn said he will likely try to force a vote on his bill to bring more transparency to the earmark process by creating a central database of lawmaker requests, among other things.
“They’re going to get a vote on it, so let’s see how they vote,” he said.
The issue highlights a long-standing schism between the home-state rivals, but Inhofe and Coburn also represent two sides of an issue that threatens to divide the GOP in the aftermath of what are expected to be dramatic gains for the party in both chambers in November.
Many of the new GOP Members are expected to be beneficiaries of the conservative tea party movement, which has demonized earmarks as wasteful examples of runaway government spending. But many Republican Senators think they have a constitutional duty to determine spending priorities and that eliminating earmarks only gives bureaucrats more power to decide where federal dollars are spent.
Earmarks, or Congressionally directed spending, allow lawmakers to fund pet projects in their home states or districts without waiting for the relevant Cabinet agency to approve a funding request.
House Republicans have been in the throes of the earmark debate for several years, and that debate is likely to only intensify if the party wins the majority in that chamber. Senate Republicans are less likely to retake the majority, but there is little doubt that Coburn will have an influx of new allies.
Sen. John McCain, a longtime earmark foe, said it matters little whether Republicans win enough seats to take back the Senate or whether they just have a more powerful minority.