Congress hopefuls vow to be pork-free

Face earmark battle with senior members

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The anti-pork brigade in Congress is poised to receive massive reinforcements next year, with nearly every non-incumbent GOP Senate candidate and hordes of House hopefuls swearing off earmarks themselves or even ready to consider an outright ban for all lawmakers.

That potential influx means a showdown with old-guard lawmakers - of both parties - who consider earmarking a central congressional prerogative. It also could mean a reversal of fortunes for critics such as Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who has fought unsuccessfully to get his party to stop the practice.

“I will force a vote in the SenateGOP conference to ban earmarks next year,” said Mr. DeMint, who has endorsed candidates supporting a ban. “I believe this will pass, and Republicans will be unified against the wasteful and corrupt earmark system.”

House Republicans voted in March to impose a moratorium on earmarks for fiscal 2011 spending bills. All but a handful of their members have abided by it.

But no other party caucus in either the House or Senate has sworn off targeted spending requests that lawmakers use to deliver federal money for projects back home.

Democratic leaders argue that the solution is transparency, not elimination.

Promises to eliminate earmarks are likely to be the first major test of GOP unity after the midterm elections, regardless of whether Republicans win control of either chamber. The debate pits senior senators, who note that Congress was given the power of the purse, against a growing number of lawmakers who say earmarks have become a corrupting force.

Asked what his party will do next year about the issue, Sen. Thad Cochran, ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and a vocal defender of earmarks, laughed and shook his head. “Have a lively discussion of the issue,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, voted for an earmark ban and against a similar proposal two days apart in March.

One vote was on a ban for fiscal years 2010 and 2011, while the other was a ban on earmarks in any year in which the government runs a deficit.

“Republican senators will be meeting with the new members before announcing any new plans for the next Congress,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said they want Republicans to continue their earmark moratorium, though they’ll likely face opposition from some of the party’s senior members on the House Appropriations Committee.

“That means that it becomes even more complicated, because there are going to be these old bulls - Jerry Lewis, Bill Young, Hal Rogers - that stand to clean up with their position on Appropriations,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, referring to veteran GOP congressmen from California, Florida and Kentucky, respectively.

But with Mr. Boehner never having sought earmarks, with Mr. Cantor having given up the practice a few years ago, and with the prospect of a 2011 class of “rabble-rousing freshmen,” Mr. Ellis said, “you’ve got a pretty combustible mix.”

Of the 27 non-incumbent Republican Senate candidates running this year, 23 have sworn off earmarks for themselves or have proposed a moratorium or outright ban. A number of them have even signed pledges to that effect.

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