Tea party leaders are hailing Monday’s capitulation by GOP Senate leaders, who now say they will support an earmark moratorium, as a landmark victory in the battle to bring federal spending back under control.
Just one week ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he would only favor an earmark moratorium if Democrats and the president promised to abide by one as well.
But with a flood of new grass-roots oriented congressman sweeping into town, and deluged with phone calls from a nationwide Tea Party Patriots telephone campaign, McConnell declared that he had heard the voice of the voters and now will support the ban as well.
Later today a vote within the GOP Senate is expected to show a majority of GOP senators now support the earmark moratorium, which is nonbinding and does not carry the weight of law.
While obeying the earmark ban is up to the conscience of GOP senators, those who cross the line can rest assured their phone lines will light up with angry callers from the conservative grass-roots.
Democratic senators, it should be noted, will not be constrained by the voluntary rule, which only applies to the GOP caucus.
Despite those limitations, tea party conservatives are hailing the earmark ban, which is a virtual lock to be adopted by House Republicans as well, as a great symbolic victory for voters weary and frustrated with the tax-and-spend policies coming out of Washington.
Earmarks, which members of Congress use for pet projects to curry favor with voters in their home districts, only account for about 1 percent of federal spending. But grass-roots conservatives say the earmark ban will provide voters with a clear demarcation between the two parties and their guiding philosophies.
“The American people voted for a fiscally responsible government, and we’re going to demand that as a tea party,” said Everett Wilkinson, a member of Tea Party Patriots national leadership board.
“Our people called their congressmen and senators specifically on earmarks,” he said, “and right now I’d put the score at tea party 1, political establishment 0, as far as earmarks go. We won the first battle and we’re going to continue to push for fiscally responsible government.”
South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint, the champion of earmark reform in the Senate, issued a statement congratulating the GOP leadership on ending “the earmark favor factory.”
“It's time for Congress to stop focusing on parochial pet projects, and instead focus on cutting spending, devolving power and decisions back to states, and working on national priorities like entitlement and tax reform,” DeMint stated. “Now that Republicans are taking real action to end wasteful spending, I hope President Obama follows through with his rhetoric and promises to veto any bill with Democrat earmarks."
Georgia GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss told Fox News Tuesday morning that the earmark ban is a good first step, but that much more must be done to rein in federal spending.
“You know, only in D.C. is a billion dollars very little money,” he said. “Earmarks amount to about $16 billion, and that is significant in and of itself.
“But the fact is that we’ve got to reduce federal spending by trillions over the next 10 years, not billions. So earmark reform is a good step in the right direction. But we’ve got an awful lot of other federal spending that is going to have to be addressed,” he said.
Sal Russo, the founder of the Tea Party Express organization, said achieving a GOP earmark ban in both the House and the Senate is “an important symbolic victory” for grass-roots conservatives.
But he added, “Our goal in 2012 is to make sure those that fail to have a determination to get America’s fiscal house in order will be defeated.”
That’s no idle threat, given that it comes from the leader of an organization that helped de-throne several incumbent Republicans in the GOP primary. His message on behalf of the tea parties: Symbolism alone will not placate the conservative base.
“We still have a long way to go in the Senate,” Russo tells Newsmax, ”and we have to realize that we need to get close to 60 votes there to take our country back.”
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