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The Earmark Moratorium is Nonbinding; Republican Senators Already Planning to Break It

The President immediately tried to turn the tables on the earmark debate, putting those in his party as well as those on the Republican side, who are poised to forswear earmarks, in an awkward position.

I welcome Senator 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. As a Senator, I helped eliminate anonymous earmarks, and as President, I’ve called for new limitations on earmarks and set new, higher standards of transparency and accountability. But we can’t stop with earmarks as they represent only part of the problem. In the days and weeks to come, I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to not only end earmark spending, but to find other ways to bring down our deficits for our children.

You could see this as hanging Democrats who still support earmarks out to dry. I actually think it’s more a preparation for the inevitable Republican earmark discovery a few months down the road. For you see, the earmark moratorium is nonbinding.

NONBINDING MEANS… You don’t have to, and several senior Senate Republicans say they likely won’t honor a GOP Conference ban on earmarks despite Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s about-face Monday embracing the moratorium. Asked if she would abide by the moratorium, Murkowski said: “I’don’t think so.” Among others echoing Murkowski’s skepticism are Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla.

What will happen is that Murkowski or Cochran or Inhofe, or even worse someone like a Marco Rubio, will be revealed as submitting an earmark or supporting a local project, and the tea party will attack. We already know that banning earmarks will do next to nothing for the budget deficit; it won’t be long before the earmark moratorium won’t be worth a lick.

The President’s statement keeps him relatively above the fray. He also happens to know that, if the Congress won’t direct appropriations, he gets to do it. That’s kind of the attitude you’re seeing with the re-directing of high speed rail funds away from states who reject them. Obama and the executive branch will actually have a lot more power in a post-earmark ban Congress.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell was unanimously chosen Minority Leader, despite (or perhaps because of) losing the intra-party battle on earmarks. Jim DeMint knows he has ideological control of the caucus, so McConnell is free to pretend that he leads it.

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David Dayen

David Dayen