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Jim DeMint 1, Mitch McConnell 0

By Ezra Klein

A week ago, Politico reported that "in a series of one-on-one conversations with incoming and sitting senators, McConnell is encouraging his colleagues to keep an open mind and not to automatically side with DeMint, whose plan calls on Senate Republicans to unilaterally give up earmarks in the 112th Congress." That was not, for McConnell, good press, as in a series of publicly available blog posts and radio rants and op-ed columns, the conservative movement began taking him apart. Now, he's seen the light:

Bringing about real change is hard work. It requires elected officials — whether they’re in their first week or their 50th year in office — to challenge others and, above all, to challenge themselves to do things differently from time to time, to question, and then to actually shake up the status quo in pursuit of a goal or a vision that the voters have set for the good of our country.

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents. And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. 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 the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

I take this as a good move, though: Eliminating earmarks is one of those things that conservative activists are simply right about. Yes, it's only about 1 percent of the budget, and yes, many of the programs funded through earmarks are worthwhile, but it also feeds D.C.'s massive lobbying complex, and in general, it's not a wise way to spend federal money.

By Ezra Klein  | November 15, 2010; 3:16 PM ET
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Good for you Ezra (and Mitch McConnell and Jim Demint).

Welcome to the dark side.

That sound you hear is Congress' approval rating ticking up ever so slightly.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 15, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse


Why no column on the Open Letter to Ben Bernanke in today's WSJ? Lots of economists and professor types on there. You'll love it.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 15, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse


Good job on recognizing a good tea party policy! Marriage may be having a good effect on you. Winston Churchill once said that if you are not a liberal when you are young, you do not have a heart. And if you are not a conservative when you get older, then you do not have a brain. It looks like you are growing up! I am so proud of you.

Posted by: cummije5 | November 15, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Funny, I was under the impression that the entire federal budget "feeds D.C.'s massive lobbying complex." It's unclear to me how earmarks are worse than say, military contracts, in that regard.

Also, can someone please explain to me what this GOP vote actually DOES? The Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, obviously. Are they saying they will simply hold off on pushing for earmarks for their constituencies, or that they will filibuster any bill with earmarks? Do the Democrats have a real position on this issue? Everyone is explaining that DeMint won and McConnell lost, but neither Klein nor anyone else is explaining what that will actually mean in the end. A vote among the minority party caucus does not necessarily translate into policy.

Posted by: brooklyngj | November 15, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

This is a stupid policy, if anything it reduces the transparency of lawmaker's requests. Look to Think Progress's recent unearthing of the $1MM request from Sen. Ensign for ACA Health dollars. All this will do is move lawmaker requests away from clear legislation into opaque bureaucracies. It will do nothing to change the lobbying of interests.

Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | November 15, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Why is anyone believing this crap?

Republicans will continue using earmarks and do whatever they can to keep it out of the media

Posted by: Bious | November 15, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Smart of McConnell sensing that he will not have a day here. If you cannot fight them, then join them....

Not necessarily a big item, but this is good politics. As more and more 'noise items' about addressing deficit are removed; it will start becoming clear to public what Gail Collins call Gorilla with Machine Gun - health care cost.

Obama will want to have that debate because that is the only way he will be vindicated on his health care reform.

But things are not simple or at least President does not want it to be that simple. Because, for Bush Tax Cuts he is following the above dictum - he does not want to fight GOP so he is joining them.

Posted by: umesh409 | November 15, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Bizarro world....Ezra agreeing with a conservative position.

And make no mistake, it should reduce total spending. All the folks (including McConnell) who say it won't reduce federal spending say so because they are saturated in D.C. philosophy. They believe if the federal budget is a trillion dollars this year, and includes $10 billion of earmarks, next years budget starts with a trillion dollars with or without earmarks.

What conservatives are pushing is eliminating the portion of the budget that includes earmarks, and starting next years budget discussion at the lower number as next year's baseline...i.e., $990 billion in the example above.

Liberals and big-government Republicans have got to get over their narrow-mindedness that federal spending will be what it is, and can never be reduced. To them, elimating earmarks just changes who gets to spend it. Coservatives hope to show them that's not the case....

Posted by: dbw1 | November 15, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

"it will start becoming clear to public what Gail Collins call Gorilla with Machine Gun - health care cost. Obama will want to have that debate because that is the only way he will be vindicated on his health care reform."

How will Obama be 'vindicated', when his health care reform is going to add to the deficit as it is, and that's assuming that the estimated costs Democrats included in the ACA don't explode exponentially in the coming years as was the case with Medicare, SS, etc.

Posted by: dbw1 | November 15, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

More smoke and mirrors. This just means they will just stop calling this stuff "earmarks." Does anybody really believe Senators won't strive to bring home the bacon (under some other politically correct name)?

Posted by: AuthorEditor | November 15, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

The WSJ makes an interesting point about earmarks:

"It's true that earmarks make up only 2% to 3% of all federal spending, but that spending is what greases the political skids for passing trillion-dollar-plus budget bills. Members get what they want in return for voting "aye" on what the Administration and Congressional leaders want."

I continue to be disgusted at the inability of Congress to pass the annual spending bills on time and rolling everything into the Omnibus bill at the end of the year.

A better vehicle for lobbying and special interests you could not find.

Posted by: jnc4p | November 15, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Hey Ezra:

I was under the impression that earmarks don't really increase the amount of money spent, merely the allocation of already existing funds. Am I wrong about that? If I'm not, how will eliminating the earmark process lead to less spending? Is the argument that the very existence of earmarks leads lawmakers to spend more in anticipation of the eventual earmarking? Is there any evidence to back that up?

Posted by: MattMilholland | November 15, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Ok, call me cynical for thinking that members of Congress have other ways of rewarding supporters than earmarks when drafting legislation. It doesn't touch the tax code or business regulations at all. It presents the image of reform without much substance.

And there is a case to make for earmarks - we elect representatives to help solve our problems, and in some cases that means securing funds for a local project. The problem is when the process lacks transparency, or when a particular powerful member of Congress can get $450M for a bridge to nowhere.

Modest suggestions for reforming earmarks:

All earmarks published on-line, listed by the sponsoring member.

Earmarks limited to $1 per registered voter represented by the member of the House or Senate

Posted by: j3hess | November 15, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

We're in the midst of a huge depression. We NEED more spending -- earmarks, even. A bridge to nowhere is useless -- except to the people who build it. Massive infrastructure repairs are necessary both for current and future generations. But hey, why worry about basic economics when you can score a rhetorical point?

Posted by: stonedone | November 15, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"dbw1" when you say Obama Health Care would actually increase deficit; get Ezra started on that. He is a better spokesperson here than me.

CBO said Obama care would reduce the deficit. The measures which actually are going to reduce the deficit, GOP and Tea Party oppose without putting in place anything which will control the cost. What do you say then?

Which off the Conservative proposal about Health Care is more 'deficit reducing' than what Obama Care does? Do they have anything there? Even the faulty proposal of Rep. Ryan, is it endorsed by GOP and Tea Party?

This malarkey that Obama care would increase the deficit and that is the whole point - to educate folks like you and that education is not happening because folks like you are diverted by:
- death panels
- pulling plug from Granda Ma
- American Health Care is the best in the world (the Leader Boehner)
- we want Medicare with no restrictions
- Obama is trying to ration health care by independent Medicare cost control board and all that.

Because there are many, many people in this country who cannot think 2 things at a time and who cannot think beyond the 'yelling' of Sarah Pallin; we need more and more 'cluttered' to be removed to see the point.

Posted by: umesh409 | November 15, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price check .If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy about it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!

Posted by: maquinnajo | November 16, 2010 4:41 AM | Report abuse

Huh? How come I'm agreeing with the tiny czar of the JournoList cabal? The old "even a broken clock..." syndrome. I'm glad EK has his head screwed on forwards on this issue, which McConnell's fellow Kentuckian, Ron Paul, was adamant about standing fast on. What kind of 'libertarian' wants earmarks? Paul is a RINO in disguise.

Posted by: djman1141 | November 16, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

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