Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Elephant Dung #3: Inhofe defends earmarks, refuses to back down over ban

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

Mitch McConnell finally capitulated on earmarks, handing a big (if largely symbolic) win to Jim DeMint and the right-wing Republican rebels (even if it's also a win for good government), but at least one leading Republican is refusing to back down -- the ever-so-crazy, ever-so-extreme James Inhofe:

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe is going down swinging, insisting he'll still send earmarks to his state even though his fellow Senate Republicans are poised to adopt a two-year ban on pet projects.

"I'm going to look out for my state of Oklahoma," Inhofe told POLITICO. "Obviously, that's what the Constitution says I'm going to do, and I'm going to do it. Let's keep in mind this is over. I'll be the last conservative standing."

The Constitution? Really? Inhofe claims that the (non-binding) earmark ban "trashes the Constitution and violates our oath of office." This is stupid. While Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution requires Congress to pass legislation regarding all federal appropriations, it does not, as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) writes, authorize "the contemporary practice of earmarking, which typically involves individual members of Congress identifying specific projects for which they obtain exclusive funding."

Still, Inhofe certainly appreciates the power of pork, both for his state and for him personally -- not that he needs the votes, but what he brings home helps make him largely invincible in what is already a solidly red state. And he is quite right that earmarks total just a small percentage (1.5) of federal discretionary spending. Not I think he's right -- this really is a good government issue -- but he's got a point. Members of Congress serve their constituents, after all, and one of their jobs is to do what's best for them.

But what does he mean when he says that he'll be "the last conservative standing"? Is he suggesting that the earmark issue will be the undoing of his fellow Republicans?

As Walid Zafar puts it at Political Correction, a Media Matters blog, "[r]egardless of who is right or wrong, or whose side ultimately prevails, it's becoming abundantly clear the gap between the Republican old guard and the anti-government forces is starting to widen."

Good times. 


Senate Republicans approved the two-year ban last night, propelling DeMint's star even higher.

Inhofe isn't alone. Sen.-elect Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also came out against the ban. "He thinks it's the prerogative of the legislative branch, not the bureaucrats, to fight for projects in their states after they've sought the lowest possible budget," said a spokesman. One assumes that Blunt is rather more sober than Inhofe on this issue.

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