Fight brewing within the GOP over earmarks

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Even before the new Congress is sworn in, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and an emboldened coalition of tea party-backed senators are challenging the Republican Party establishment by reopening a long-simmering debate over congressional earmarks.

GOP senators are planning an internal vote this week on a moratorium proposed by DeMint that would ban Republicans from passing earmarks – lawmakers’ fiercely guarded practice of steering federal money to pet projects in their home states.

Earmarks are lampooned so much as pork-barrel spending that they have become seen by some lawmakers as political liabilities, but efforts to end the practice thus far have failed. And DeMint’s moratorium, even if it passes, will be a symbolic gesture at best. It would be a non-binding Senate Republican Conference rule, meaning GOP senators could sidestep the rule to insert earmarks into budget appropriation bills.

“Americans want Congress to shut down the earmark favor factory,” DeMint, a prominent voice of the tea party, said in a statement last week. “Instead of spending time chasing money for pet projects, lawmakers will be able to focus on balancing the budget, reforming the tax code and repealing the costly health care takeover.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other earmark defenders, who argue that banning the practice would not actually decrease the budget, have been canvassing the caucus in recent days lining up votes against DeMint’s moratorium.

Full story: Coalition of senators challenges GOP on earmarks