Earmarks already shaping 2012 campaign

Rob Bluey Contributor
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Conservatives are asking for a two-year timeout from earmarks. Mike Huckabee is ready to ban them for the next 20 years.

The former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate made sure his views on pork-barrel spending were clear prior to next week’s Senate Republican vote on a two-year earmark moratorium.

Huckabee became the first potential 2012 candidate to take a position on the contentious Senate earmark moratorium, which has divided the GOP — or at least those in the upper chamber. House Republicans are expected to adopt a similar moratorium without controversy.

“Another big battle is brewing over earmarks; this is going to be a big issue for conservatives who want earmarks banned. Some members argue that it would be an unconstitutional limit on Congress’ power to spend money,” Huckabee wrote on his blog. “I suggest a compromise, just ban earmarks for the next 20 years. Congress has already spent enough money for about the next 20 years, so that should just about catch them up.”

Huckabee’s declaration will surely catch the attention of Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and others who might be mulling a 2012 run.

Palin’s silence is particularly surprising given her high-profile fight against the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, perhaps the most notorious pork-barrel project in history.

Romney, meanwhile, recently wrote that President Obama must “veto every spending bill chocked with earmarks.” He has yet to take a public position on the moratorium.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, was reportedly lobbying his colleagues to oppose the moratorium. A spokesman for Thune denied that report, but Thune has yet to sign on as a co-sponsor for the moratorium.

In the House, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has advocated for earmark reform in the past and supported a moratorium earlier this year.

The issue of earmarks is not new to presidential politics. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) railed against pork-barrel spending during the 2008 campaign, both in the GOP primary and general election.

The stakes are heightened by Tuesday’s vote among Senate Republicans on a two-year earmark moratorium. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is opposed to the idea, pitting him against Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and a dozen other Republicans.

DeMint will offer the earmark moratorium proposal at a closed-door meeting of the GOP caucus. The vote will be conducted by secret ballot. Taxpayers Against Earmarks lists 14 senators who support the moratorium, six short of a majority among the Senate GOP.

In hopes of persuading undecided Republican senators, conservatives are turning up the heat. Grassroots organizations including Americans for Prosperity, Citizens Against Government Waste, Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Tea Party Patriots have all declared their support for the moratorium.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.