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Earmark Fight In Senate Pits Tea Partiers Against Establishment GOP

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On the sidelines are the budget watchdog groups that have been calling for an end to banning earmarks for years. They say that even with the arrival of anti-earmarking types like Paul and Toomey, they're not holding their breath that a tea party-infused Senate GOP will deliver the ban they've been waiting for.

Mike Connolly of the conservative Club For Growth told me this week that he hopes "things will move in a DeMinterly direction" when the next Congress convenes, but he said "it was always going to be a tougher slog" in the Senate. The Club has been anti-earmark forever, and Toomey is a former chair. Still, Connolly sounded like he'd be surprised if Toomey and his new colleagues could get earmarking scrapped.

Connolly said that the same anti-incumbent anger that fueled the tea party's influence over the last election cycle could spill over into 2012 if anti-earmark groups like the tea party aren't satisfied.

"When people talk about being against the establishment, this is what it means," he said. "The American people have kind of really made up their minds on this issue."

Stephen Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said something similar, but he pointed to President Obama's public opposition to earmarks and suggested tea partiers may not be the only problem establishment Republicans have if they reject an earmark ban. Obama has backed DeMint's plan to ban earmarks in the Senate, even though many of his fellow Democrats in the Senate caucus continue to earmark away (though the majority has passed disclosure rules that change the way earmarks work.)

"The president seems like he's going to ramp up on earmarks," Ellis said this week. "You can see a case where the president can triangulate on Senate Republicans."

Ellis said he didn't expect the Senate GOP to ban earmarking either -- at least as long as McConnell is in charge.

"McConnell is an unabashed supporter of earmarks," he said. "Earmarks are in his DNA."

Indeed, McConnell has already begun to shut down DeMint's efforts to push an earmark ban through, according to Politico. In advance of next Tuesday's GOP caucus vote on DeMint's proposed moratorium on earmarks -- similar to the one already in place among House Republicans -- McConnell has been pushing Senators to reject the ban, though he has yet to come out against it publicly.

Connolly said McConnell and other Republicans should be wary of rejecting the tea party next week.

"We're watching very closely," he told me. "And we want to make sure people know we're watching closely."

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