The possible moratorium on earmarks in the House of Representatives that I described in this space last week has spread, virus-like, to the Senate. Senator Jim DeMint, freshman Republican of South Carolina, will offer an amendment to the Senate budget resolution today that would eliminate earmarks for the year -- and all three candidates for President have agreed to co-sponsor the measure with him. According to Congressional Quarterly, the trio is expected to take a day off the campaign and return to Washington to vote, probably Thursday or Friday.
The Senate Budget Resolution sets the outline for the year's spending priorities, which is filled in later, more or less, by the Appropriations Committee. The action, assuming it passes, may still wind up being wholly symbolic: with Democrats set to make further gains in Congress in the November elections and perhaps take the White House, too, it's not clear that there will even be a 2009 budget. Still, senators, like their colleagues in the other chamber, are reportedly seething privately. Let us quote liberally from Robert Novak's column in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times:
The irony could hardly be greater. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, an ardent earmarker, is smart enough politically to realize how unpopular the practice is with the Republican base. Consequently, McConnell combines anti-earmark rhetoric with evasive tactics to save pork. But McCain, surely not the presidential candidate that McConnell wanted, is leading his party with a pledge to veto any bill containing earmarks. McConnell is running for re-election from Kentucky bragging about the pork he has brought the state.
McConnell, Novak notes somewhat sardonically, had named a Republican task force to "study" earmarks composed of -- wait for it -- skilled practitioners of the earmark!
Of the two Democratic candidates, Clinton's hands are much, much dirtier with the earmark stain. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Clinton was the tenth most prolific earmarker in the Senate last year; she claimed pet projects worth $342 million in the 2008 budget. Obama came in a relatively angelic 78th, with nearly $99 million in earmarks. Neither Democrat, however, is as squeaky-clean as the Republican one of them will face in the fall: like the amendment's sponsor and just three other Senators, John McCain requested no earmarks in the 2008 budget -- one instance where his sanctimony is justified.