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Earmark Ban Needs House GOP

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. John McCain has long opposed earmarks for spending. He’s confident the GOP can enforce a ban on the practice.

One Member argued that unless the definition of an earmark is clarified, only chairmen, who have access to the White House and other powerful players, could make real decisions about appropriations.

Several appropriators acknowledged the ban would make Republicans more reliant on the executive branch, and Rogers said he would watch White House spending closely.

“All of these agencies have their own rules with which they allocate funds, and I’m assuming when the administration makes a decision of spending their money that they will do it on merit instead of on politics,” he said.

But as much pain as the House Republicans will go through trying to implement this across-the-board ban within their own ranks, the earmark moratorium will face another hurdle as bills go to a conference committee. Senate Democrats have declined to join the ban pledged by Senate Republicans.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, who also sits on the spending panel, noted that unlike the House ban, the Senate GOP’s resolution is nonbinding.

“Each individual Senator has to make his own decision,” the Tennessean said, adding that he has pledged to steer clear of earmarks except in state emergencies.

He added that he has not pledged to oppose bills with earmarks in them and that he expects the moratorium to be temporary.

“That’s just a statement that I’ve made on my own practice as a Senator for the next two years while we clean up the process,” Alexander said of his position. “And then after that, I fully expect us to get back to our normal responsibility, which is to appropriate dollars where they should go.”

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) acknowledged the conference committees would be “a real challenge” since Senate Democrats, and possibly some Republicans, may be willing to live with earmarks sometimes.

Said Rogers: “We are dead-set opposed to earmarks and we will fight them every inch of the way.”

But Senate Democrats expressed doubt that House Republicans would be able to present a united front.

“I think they talk a big game, and the reality will be they redefine what an earmark is,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Plus, Democrats expect some skepticism that Republicans will be content with White House spending choices. “The administration will make all decisions about what kind of infrastructure projects will be funded in the country,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a longtime appropriator. “You would think that Members of the House and Senate probably know best about the priorities of the states and regions.”

One Republican House Member said it was only a matter of time before Members find a way around the ban.

“Build a better rat trap, you just get smarter rats,” the lawmaker said.

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