But not all Republicans are on board with the anti-earmark crusade. Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said Congress would have been ceding its constitutional authority to spend money if it adopted the moratorium.
Earmark supporters say the amounts in question are a small fraction of the overall budget, and that banning earmarks on Capitol Hill would only give bureaucrats in the executive branch more power to decide how taxpayer dollars are spent.
“The real problem is not earmarks,” he said. “The real problem is that during that two-year period - when everyone is concerned about a few dollars - we found out we have increased the debt more than it has been increased in the history of this country, and we have given my 20 kids and grandkids a $3 trillion deficit in just two years.”
He pointedly noted that the sponsor of Tuesday’s amendment, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, voted for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan and the $50 billion world AIDS relief bill - both of which Mr. Inhofe opposed as bloated spending.
Mr. Coburn said after the vote that while earmarks account for a small percentage of federal spending - less than half a percent in the last fiscal year - they are a “gateway drug” to more spending.
“As earmarks exploded, so did the size of the federal budget, which has doubled in the past decade,” Mr. Coburn said.
The issue has produced some interesting patterns in the five votes held over the past four years.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, voted for a two-year moratorium earlier this year, but just two days later voted against a moratorium that would have remained in place as long as the federal government ran a deficit.
Sen. Jim Bunning, a fellow Kentucky Republican, voted against bans up until Tuesday. He is resigning at the end of this year and will be replaced by Rand Paul, a Republican who has taken a stance against earmarks.
Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican seated on Monday after winning a special election to fill Mr. Obama’s former seat from Illinois, replaced Sen. Roland W. Burris, an earmark supporter. Mr. Burris replaced Mr. Obama, a former earmarker who came to oppose the practice during his final year in the Senate.
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