Harry Reid, Democrats: Earmarks Could Ease Gridlock

Image: Harry Reid, Democrats: Earmarks Could Ease Gridlock

Wednesday, 07 May 2014 01:01 PM

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pining for the lost days of earmarked spending bills, and he’s not the only Democrat hoping to revive the banned practice of lawmakers funding pet projects back home, The Washington Times reported.

"I have been a fan of earmarks since I got here the first day," the Nevada Democrat told reporters Tuesday.

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Reid described earmarking — lawmakers directing funds to voter-pleasing projects in their districts — as a legitimate negotiating tool that could help untie a gridlocked Congress.

Budget hawks have long cited earmarks as prime examples of pork-barrel spending for dubious home-state projects — like Alaska’s never completed $300 million "bridge to nowhere."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Barack Obama oppose earmarks, despite grumbling from respective allies on Capitol Hill. But now, more than three years since House Republicans handed down an outright ban, Reid and other Senate Democrats are testing Washington’s resolve on the issue.

"That [earmarking] was the glue that held everybody together, Democrats and Republicans, working for a common goal," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, told reporters in his home state.

Such talk has prompted the more spending-conscious senators to rally behind the existing moratorium. But the Times reported that only 11 senators had, as of Tuesday, signed on to an anti-earmarks letter put forward by Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.

"Congress has ample flexibility to exercise its power of the purse," the letter states, "and represent the interests of our constituents without using earmarks."

That may be part of the problem, according to some budget watchdogs who say that while the ban has cut spending by billions annually, Congress still finds ways around it.

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