McConnell Does About-Face on Earmarks: ‘The People Have Spoken’

by Daniel Foster

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), Senate Republican Leader, has reversed course on a proposed earmark ban, saying in a floor speech just now that

“. . .on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.”

McConnell defended his own previous earmarks, and subtly worked in the point he’s been trying to make along with Senator Inhofe that the earmark fight is largely symbolic. But smartly, he framed his change of heart not as a politically convenient flip-flop, but as a response to the wishes of the American people:

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

McConnell also emphasized unity with House Republicans on the issue, and gave himself some future maneuvering room by closing with a warning to President Obama:

Republican Leaders in the House and Senate are now united on this issue, united in hearing what the voters have been telling us for two years — and acting on it.

This is no small thing. Old habits aren’t easy to break, but sometimes they must be. And now is such a time. With a $14 trillion debt and an administration that talks about cost-cutting, but then sends over a budget that triples the national debt in 10 years and creates a massive new entitlement program, it’s time for some of us in Washington to show in every way possible that we mean what we say about spending.

With Republican leaders in Congress united, the attention now turns to the President. We have said we are willing to give up discretion; now we’ll see how he handles spending decisions. And if the president ends up with total discretion over spending, we will see even more clearly where his priorities lie. We already saw the administration’s priorities in a Stimulus bill that’s become synonymous with wasteful spending, that borrowed nearly $1 trillion for administration earmarks like turtle tunnels, a sidewalk that lead to a ditch, and research on voter perceptions of the bill.

You can read the full remarks here.