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So why don't the Democrats ban earmarks, too?

By Marc Thiessen

If President Obama is looking for areas of bipartisan cooperation with Republicans on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just handed him a golden opportunity. Yesterday, McConnell went to the floor and declared he would support a unilateral Republican ban on earmarks. His announcement immediately drew praise from President Obama, who declared: "I welcome Sen. McConnell's decision to join me and members of both parties who support cracking down on wasteful earmark spending, which we can't afford during these tough economic times."

Well, if that is how the president really feels, why doesn't he do more than praise the Republican leader for banning earmarks? Why doesn't he push Democratic congressional leaders to do the same? On Wednesday, he will have the chance to do just that, when Democratic Sen. Claire McKaskill (Mo.) and Republican Senator Tom Coburn (Okla.) offer a bipartisan amendment to ban the practice entirely. Why doesn't Obama urge Harry Reid to support the amendment? Obama has said he is looking for opportunities for bipartisan cooperation. Here is a chance for the president not only to reach across the aisle, but to show Americans that Democrats heard the message of the 2010 elections.

The president might have to twist Reid's arm to get him to go along. After McConnell's announcement, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made clear that Senate Democrats have no intention of shutting down the congressional pork factory, declaring: "From delivering $100 million in military projects for Nevada to funding education and public transportation projects in the state, Sen. Reid makes no apologies for delivering for the people of Nevada." Well neither did McConnell apologize for the projects he delivered for Kentucky. Quite the opposite -- McConnell made clear that he had long supported earmarking, but that that the practice had been abused and had become a symbol of congressional waste and abuse. He said that he was listening to the American people, who wanted the practice to stop.

Listening to the American people on spending -- what a novel idea. Obama has an opportunity to exercise some leadership and help his party with its listening skills. He should urge Senate Democrats to join Republicans in passing the McKaskill-Coburn amendment -- and urge House Democrats to join Republicans in doing the same in the other chamber.

And if they refuse, Obama has the power to put in place a bipartisan earmark ban himself. He can simply declare that he will veto any spending bills arriving at his desk that include earmarks.

Leading the Democrats to join the GOP in banning earmarks is a win-win for the president -- a chance to send a message of spending restraint and show some bipartisan cooperation at the same time. Will he seize that opportunity? Or was his statement lauding McConnell just empty praise? If Obama's opposition to earmarks is all words and no action, it only helps the GOP solidify its brand as the party of fiscal responsibility -- and the Democrats' brand as the party of profligacy.

The test of his seriousness will come Wednesday, with the vote on McKaskill-Coburn.

By Marc Thiessen  | November 16, 2010; 12:07 PM ET
Categories:  Thiessen  | Tags:  Marc Thiessen  
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Next: Prince William's wedding is no time for austerity


Mr. Thiessen is remarkably consistent in his calls for Democrats to be bipartisan, I'll give him that much. But he'd have much more credibility if he ever bothered to call on his GOP friends to reach across the aisle instead of always demanding that Democrats roll over.

Also, it would be nice if Mr. Thiessen indicated even a fleeting familiarity with the concept of separation of powers. Good or bad, earmarks are a congressional prerogative, not something the executive branch has any standing to dictate.

Posted by: DCSteve1 | November 16, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

If we don't have bipartisan politics in the next 2 years ( we should always have it ) What's the sense of paying the politicians wages with our tax dollars, they won't accomplish anything & are worthless to us. I'm sick of the bickering & it's all to impress us, away from the TV cameras the same lobbyists are paying both parties and we get nothing

Posted by: wasaUFO | November 18, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

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