Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Earmark Battle Awaits Senators

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. James Inhofe says he plans to go to the Senate floor during the lame-duck session to defend of earmarks and to chastise his colleagues for “demagoguing” the issue.

“I think it’s whether we understand the mandate of the election. People, they want it to stop, they want business as usual in Washington to stop. If there are some people who don’t get that message, I think they’re holding a losing hand,” the Arizona Republican said.

Still, Senators on both sides of the issue said there won’t be enough new Members to do what House Republicans did last year, when they swore off earmarks for the remainder of the Congress.

“Keep in mind that pretty overwhelmingly, I would be in the minority on earmarks by a lot,” earmark opponent Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said. “I think there are only six or seven Senators that don’t do them. Depending on the elections in November, there may be a few more, but I think it will continue to be the minority view in the Senate.”

Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran said he would not “voluntarily” give up his “constitutional imperative” to decide how the nation spends its money.

“It’ll be a spirited debate, as it always is, and I hope we continue to win — on my side,” the Mississippi Republican said.

In March, 15 GOP Senators went on record as opposing a one-year ban on Senate earmarks, but that floor vote belies the private support many Republicans have for the practice, sources said. Plus, Senate GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), regularly request earmarks.

Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, an appropriator who favors earmarks, sidestepped the question of whether a flood of new tea-party-backed Senators would change the intraparty debate.

“I think we should wait until November to find out what they say to us, rather than trying to say to them what we’re going to do in November,” the Tennessee lawmaker said. “We’re going to focus first on what we agree on and when we find things that we might not, why then we’ll just acknowledge that we have differences of opinion and go forward.”

In the House, Republican leadership aides suggested they ducked an earmark fight in the “A Pledge to America” document released last week in part because their hand may be strengthened by a tea-party-inspired crop of 50 to 70 freshmen.

House Minority Leader John Boehner mounted several attempts to get his party to accept stiffer earmark rules with only middling success before the bulk of the Conference agreed to a one-year moratorium this year.

But as a newly minted Speaker, the Ohio Republican would presumably have maximum clout to get his Conference in line for whatever reforms he wants.

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