Sens. Patrick Toomey and Claire McCaskill held a news conference today to announce a bipartisan proposal to permanently ban earmarks.
“It’s a process that is designed and exists for the purpose of circumventing the kind of scrutiny and attention and competitive bidding that the spending of taxpayer dollars should always be subject to,” Toomey said. “Worst of all, earmarks became a currency that was used to buy votes. There was an unwritten rule, but it was pretty well enforced, that if somebody asked for an earmark and they got their earmark that they were obligated to vote for that bill regardless of how bloated it was, regardless of how wasteful it was. This should be completely unacceptable in an era where we are running trillion-dollar deficits.”
But earmarking also had its defenders, including Reid and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
After President Barack Obama vowed in his January State of the Union address to veto legislation that includes earmarks, Reid told NBC News, “This is an applause line, an effort of the White House to get more power. They have enough power as it is.”
In an interview with Roll Call in October, Inouye said he intends to bring back earmarks after the moratorium expires.
“I am going to do everything to reinstate earmarks — or whatever you want to call them — because the Constitution is clear and it was never intended to have the executive branch do all of that. We are the ones who are called up to say to folks, ‘You are going to pay this tax.’ We have to have some say on how to spend it.”
Both see earmarks as a Congressional right bestowed by the Constitution, which gives Congress the power of the purse. They also argue that Members are in the best position to wisely spend funds in their state, as opposed to federal agency bureaucrats.
There are also some Senate Republicans who have also questioned past efforts to curtail earmarking, including Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.