- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Senate yesterday shot down an attempt to ban congressional earmarks by a 56-39 vote. At first this would appear to be a significant setback to the fiscal-responsibility movement building over the past year through Tea Party activism. A closer look offers hope that the message sent by voters in the midterm congressional elections may actually be sinking in. The prospects for a bit of change - real change, this time - are looking better than ever.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, offered the amendment, which would have imposed a moratorium through fiscal 2013 on the practice of allowing individual senators to direct government spending toward specific projects of benefit to their constituents and supporters. When the Senate considered a similar measure offered in March, just 29 senators were in favor. This time, 11 more joined the club - counting outgoing Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, as a yes vote. Mr. Brownback, who didn’t vote yesterday, voted previously to ban earmarks, and his replacement, Sen.-elect Jerry Moran, also opposes earmarks.

At least four more newly elected Republicans have stated their support for the earmark ban and will replace pro-earmark senators. These newcomers include John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Lee of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. This brings Dr. Coburn’s proposal within a handful of votes of passage. Those votes could come from Democrats terrified that the displeasure expressed Nov. 2 will carry over into 2012. For example, a Quinnipiac University poll released the week after the election showed liberal New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez with a 41 percent disapproval rating and just 38 percent approval. Mr. Menendez finds himself on an “endangered Senate Democrats” list that includes Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Jon Tester of Montana and Jim Webb of Virginia.

The rest of the votes could come from the six remaining Republican senators who voted against the ban: Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. It’s worth pointing out that although Mr. Inhofe voted to allow earmarks, he is otherwise rock solid on the bigger-picture need to rein in spending. In March, he won 41 votes for his proposal to cap overall non-defense discretionary outlays at 2008 levels. The Club for Growth, an organization that mounts primary challenges against squishy Republicans, gave Mr. Inhofe a perfect rating for his votes on spending.


The same budget-balancing attitude is even stronger in the lower chamber, where a new majority promises to hold the line even if the Senate wavers. “As the Senate vote demonstrated, the old ways of Washington die hard,” newly elected House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling told The Washington Times. “While I am disappointed my colleagues in the Senate did not join House Republicans in banning earmarks, House Republicans have made clear that bills with earmarks are going nowhere and that come January, Washington’s culture of spending will be at an end.” While it may take time, more senators are reading the tea leaves. The promised change may be worth the wait.