As the Senate Republican Conference moves to ban earmarking by the chamber's Republicans, the next question arises: What about the House? Will the new, young reform Republicans that now populate the lower chamber match the action of the Senate and ban budget-busting earmarks?
Inexplicably, the Senate Republican Conference vote will remain secret. We will have difficulty finding out who were the good guys or the bad guys. But we do know that the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saved the day. With the reformers a few votes shy of victory, he switched sides, dramatically declaring himself in favor of the earmark ban.
Now the question looms: Will incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, follow suit? If he does, a sharp difference will have emerged between the parties over the unrestrained and often corrupt practice of congressional earmarking. This issue -- alone -- could carry Republicans over the finish line in the Senate and expand their House majority. Earmarking has acquired such a bad name among the voters that it is truly causis belli.
Despite the ridiculous policy of secrecy (didn't we elect these guys?), I will publish in my column the votes of any senator who chooses to disclose how they voted on the earmark ban. Their constituents deserve to know.
If the House follows the Senate lead, it will mark a huge victory for reform. If it does not, the question is: Why not?
Earmarks contributed, in large measure, to the budget deficits that piled up during the Bush administration. Projects that were rejected by the administration came in the back door through earmarks.
Their way was paved by massive campaign contributions from lobbyists whose clients got the money. What emerged was thinly disguised bribery in which congressman and senators traded earmarks and tax money for campaign contributions.
The new Republican congressmen ran pledging to abolish earmarks. Now that they have won, it is time to keep that promise. Should they fail to do so -- or should Boehner deny them a vote -- their supporters, particularly those in the tea party movement -- will feel justifiably betrayed. The Senate vote puts them on the spot. The House majority must either act or consciously decide not to reform themselves and face the consequences.
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