GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Folds On Earmarks : It's All Politics McConnell's reversal was a victory for Sen. Jim DeMint who made earmark opposition a litmus test. McConnell's move allowed the GOP leaders in both chambers to be on the same page.
NPR logo GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Folds On Earmarks

GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Folds On Earmarks

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) the Senate minority leader. Alex Brandon/AP Photo hide caption

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Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Chalk up another victory for Sen. Jim DeMint as Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, announcing that he has reversed his position on earmarks which he now opposes.

DeMint, the Republican senator from South Carolina who has become the embodiment of the Tea Party movement in that chamber, has made opposition to earmarks a litmus test for real conservatism.

McConnell, from Kentucky, had for days said he opposed turning earmarks into a dirty word. As a leader of the Republican establishment and the institution of the Senate, he viewed earmarks as a valid power of Congress.

The special provisions lawmakers traditionally tuck into legislation to fund favored projects back in their districts or states, gave senators a chance to decide which worthy projects in their states got federal funding. Otherwise, all those decisions would be made by a president's administration, he said.

What's more, earmarks by all accounts were a small fraction of the overall budget, McConnell argued. Earmarks are one percent of the federal budget, more or less, experts say.

But in recent years earmarks have become radioactive as wasteful spending in the view of many Americans. The "bridge to nowhere" was the most infamous in recent years but there've been a number of others.

Still, McConnell resisted, that is, until Monday. An excerpt from his statement:

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.