McConnell Caves On Earmarks, Pledges To Vote For Moratorium

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November 15, 2010 9:36 a.m.

Chalk up one win for the tea party movement over the establishment. In a speech on the Senate floor just now, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll be voting for the Republican moratorium on earmarks pushed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and many incoming tea party freshmen.

“Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I’ve come down to this very spot, and said that Democrats were ignoring the wishes of the American people,” McConnell said. “When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.”The move brings an end to a battle that pitted McConnell and the establishment — which has long used earmarking to grant political favors and curry support back home — versus the fiscally conservative insurgency led by DeMint and fueled by the tea party, which has called earmarking an example of the worst in government waste.

Now that earmark advocates have lost McConnell, it’s fair to say it’s likely the moratorium will pass when the incoming Senate Republican caucus meets tomorrow. In his floor speech vowing to support the moratorium, McConnell reiterated his defense of the practice — which he reportedly has been mounting in private as he tried to twist Republican arms to vote against the ban. That effort, which was laid out in public by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), appears to have failed.

On a conference call before McConnell’s speech today, DeMint said he had the votes pass a moratorium, thanks in part to the arrival of tea partiers like Rand Paul (KY) and Mike Lee (UT).

McConnell struck a tea party note in his floor speech today.

“Make no mistake, I know the good that has come from the projects that I’ve helped support throughout my state, I don’t apologize for them,” he said. “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 out of control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight.”

McConnell, once a defender of earmarks and a seriously competent earmarker himself, now sounds more like DeMint than the Senator who one anti-earmarking advocate told me recently has “earmarking in his DNA.”

“Unless people like me show the American people they’re willing to follow through on their small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on the broader efforts to cut spending and reign in government,” McConnell said.

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