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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.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the leading anti-earmark crusader in the House, said the looming intraparty fight will be Boehner’s first big test after the elections.

“It will say a lot about the direction of the Conference,” he said. “I’m very worried. I think the patience of people out there, not just the Republican base, but independents and others, is pretty thin here. If we go right back to the trough, it won’t be pretty.”

The influx of new blood would strengthen Boehner’s hand, Flake said.

“Right now, you’ve still got a lot of the old bulls, the old appropriators, who want to go back to the trough,” he said. “About a third of the conference will be new people who don’t have a history of this and don’t think that’s how the town should operate.”

Flake said one of the best parts of “A Pledge to America” was a commitment to open rules on spending bills, with any amendment striking spending made in order.

But an outright ban on earmarks seems highly unlikely. Only a small number of Republicans swore off earmarks in previous years. Some bills, such as the annual military construction bill, are typically packed with earmarks, aides noted.

Several House Republicans have also made it clear that they intend to return to earmarking next year. “Some have realized the pain from not being able to be responsive to their districts,” one Republican House aide said.

The aide also noted that an outright ban could backfire by sending the process into the shadows, with lawmakers privately pressuring agencies to fund projects with no disclosure.

“None of that stuff has been decided,” another House GOP aide said. “Nobody knows where new members of the Conference would be on the reality of how you exercise your constitutional responsibility without devolving into the old system.”

House and Senate Democrats have already had several rounds of reforms since taking over in 2007, including making earmark requests public and, in the House, banning earmarks to for-profit companies.

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