Tea Party Muscle
Author: Jamie Dupree
On the first day of freshmen orientation for the new Congress, Tea Party Republicans won their first battle, as they forced Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell to back down over a ban on budget earmarks.
McConnell had been trying to stop an effort by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who had joined with some of the newest Republican Senators to ban budget earmarks by the GOP.
But when the top Senate Republican spoke on the Senate floor for the first time since the November elections, he joined backers of the earmark ban, even though the Kentucky Republican has long supported the idea of funneling more money back to his home state.
"This is no small thing," McConnell said. "Old habits aren't easy to break, but sometimes they must be."
McConnell's change of heart was a surprise, as he had been working behind the scenes to scuttle the efforts of DeMint, Coburn and others on earmarks, arguing that a ban would cede too much authority to the Executive Branch.
But in the end, McConnell decided that opposing a ban might put him on the wrong side of the Tea Party Pitchfork.
"I've talked with my members. I've listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents. And what I've concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example," said McConnell.
The move was hailed by Republicans in the House, who were on board with an earmark ban already, and it drew praise at the White House as well.
"I welcome Senator McConnell's decision to join me and members of both parties who support cracking down on wasteful earmark spending, which we can't afford during these tough economic times," said President Obama in a written statement that drew many derisive comments when I posted it on Twitter and my blog.
It leaves Democrats out on the Earmark Limb at this point, as they are still strong supporters of earmarks. Whether the President tries to saw that limb off in the next year, some Democrats might just be wondering about that.
The earmark episode might just be the first instance of where the new members of the House and Senate force a change in direction by the GOP leadership of the Congress.
The Tea Party supporters were mainly interested in reining in federal spending and getting the budget in order. Getting pork barrel dollars for your state doesn't exactly jibe with Tea Party voter intent.
So, instead of a GOP showdown on earmarks in a meeting of Senate Republicans, it will be a day of unity. How long that lasts is another question to be answered next year.
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