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Abracadabra! Senate rules reform! Poof!

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, (D-HI) today announced that the Committee will implement a moratorium on earmarks for the current session of Congress.  This amounts to a 2 year moratorium, as it will apply to both the FY 2011 and FY 2012 bills.

No, it's not rules reform in the sense that the body has adopted a change in the Standing Rules of the Senate. But it's rules reform in the sense that the Senate will change the way it does business, 67 votes or no 67 votes.

As you're doubtless aware, President Obama, in his State of the Union address, announced his intention to veto any appropriations bill with earmarks in it. It was a play perhaps designed to triangulate, or partially disarm a Republican position on the matter, though it was nonetheless met with less than universal praise from the GOP:

Blunt casts Obama vow to veto earmarks as power grab

WASHINGTON -- Amid calls for bipartisanship in Congress, Sen. Roy Blunt has found something early on that he and Senate Democratic leaders can agree on: opposing the president's plan to veto earmarks.

Blunt, R-Mo., said today that he agreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that congressional spending should be the domain of Congress and that the ban on earmarks would "give the president too much power."

Wow, whaddya know? Something President Obama wants to do that a Republican disagrees with is a "power grab." Again.

But Blunt has a real point here, and it's been echoed by Democrats including Harry Reid, who know that whether or not earmarking is unpopular, it's Congress that holds the purse strings, and may direct appropriations as it sees fit. In fact, it's easily argue -- and Reid does make this argument -- that Members of Congress know better how already allocated money is best spent in the areas they represent than do the DC-based federal agencies. Hence Reid's message to the White House -- last week, anyway -- "back off."

But the White House didn't back off. And the veto threat, for some reason, resonates this time:

However, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. The President has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.

That's 52-year veteran of the Congress and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Inouye talking. The President said he would veto. The House said it wouldn't pass such bills. So that's it. Last week it was "back off," and this week it's "OK, we give."

Would the President risk a partial or even complete government shutdown by vetoing appropriations bills with earmarks in them? Because that's what 's implicit in the threat. Of course, the threat is a lot less daring when the House says it won't pass any such bills, anyway. But of course, this threat comes in the context of a looming fight over the budget ceiling, which contains all the same risk, albeit in slightly different form. And the assumption there, apparently, is that no one would dare risk any such thing. Would the possibility of sharing the blame change things, since there are threats from both the White House and the House of Representatives? Maybe. Although a veto is a veto, and a veto can't happen unless the House agrees to give the White House the opportunity to exercise it. So maybe we'll never know. Or maybe it would all be just too delicious to resist.

Or, it could all be taken off the table by simply having that most stolid, even ossified and unchanging body, the United States Senate -- which holds all things hostage at the whim of a minority or even a single Senator, which regularly rejects the legislation handed to it by the House even with overwhelming support on the pretense that it can't get 60 votes, which cannot change itself a whit lest the Founders themselves be set spinning in their graves -- simply agree to bend.

Abracadabra! Senate rules reform!

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:00 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, before Blunt There was Reid (0+ / 0-)

    Harry Reid tells Obama he's 'wrong' on earmarks and should 'back off'

    "This is an applause line," Reid said of Obama's statement during the speech that he would veto any legislation that was sent to him with earmarks included. "It's an effort by the White House to get more power. They've got enough power as it is."

    "And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." -JFK

    by RyanBTC on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:04:47 PM PST

  •  I still can't believe I'm seeing "Sen. Roy Blunt" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, skillet

    I mean, really?

    Pragmatic progressivism is the future.

    by Pragmaticus on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:04:58 PM PST

  •  so Return of the Chairmans' line? (2+ / 0-)

    where they bury some invisible sum into the bill,
    and that's where the earmarks live?

    George Bush is Living proof of the axiom "Never send a boy to do a man's job" E -2.25 S -4.10

    by nathguy on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:06:14 PM PST

  •  Look at it this way: (0+ / 0-)

    If there are no earmarks, the President can apportion money as he sees fit:

    Funding health care.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:07:43 PM PST

    •  It's not that wide open. (5+ / 0-)

      Earmarks only operate at the level of a specific project. Without them, the Congress still programs funds for specific functions. The president doesn't have that much ability to move money between functions. He can't take money for irrigation projects and use it for health care, for instance. At least, not on the scale that would likely be necessary if he were sent bills that defunded health care implementation.

      Earmarks just say which particular irrigation project out of the many that might be eligible will actually get the funding. Much of the money will end up going to exactly the same place. It'll just be sent there by the Department of Agriculture instead of Senator Bumpus.

      •  That doesn't sound all bad. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        At least not when you put it that way.

        Much of the money will end up going to exactly the same place. It'll just be sent there by the Department of Agriculture instead of Senator Bumpus.

        Would it be bad for people to have to ackowlegde the Department of Agriculture is not our enemy?

        Ds see human suffering and wonder what they can do to relieve it. Rs see human suffering and wonder how they can profit from it.

        by JTinDC on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:45:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No, it wouldn't. (0+ / 0-)

          But it also undoes the point of the Constitution putting the spending power in the hands of the elected.

          And along the way, saves nothing, since the money is already allocated and likely to be spent in much the same way.

  •  The earmark ban is a sham. It won't last. (5+ / 0-)
    The Senators will find a sneaky way around it.  And I betcha it won't take too long before they do.  Color me cynical.

    Character is who you are when no one is watching.

    by incognita on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:10:27 PM PST

  •  John McCain? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, atheistben

    Wasn't this a huge position of John McCain's?

    The Great Depression: Now In Color!

    by TheChop on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:11:44 PM PST

  •  Shelby proposes a Constitutional Amendment (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    for a balanced budget.....Udall seconds it....hmmmmmm!

  •  Headlines aobut Democratic cave ins (1+ / 0-)

    are so common, they are not news anymore

  •  Senate Dems are in Full Capitulation Mode (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    as their decision to vote on the repeal the Affordable Health Care Act shows.  

    "Those old Wall Street boys are putting up an awful fight to keep the government from putting a cop on their corner." - Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:16:28 PM PST

  •  The Egyptians Hate Mubarak (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I hate the US Senate. Too bad nobody else will join me on the steps of City Hall to protest the World's Worst Debating Body. Actually, my little town doesn't even have a city hall.

  •  About time (esp. w/1.4 trillion dollar deficit) (0+ / 0-)

    80% of SUCCESS is JUST showing up

    Christina Taylor Green,RIP - Gun Control NOW

    by Churchill on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:23:19 PM PST

  •  Earmarks are GOOD ... unless BAD ... unless GOOD (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I feel like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

    I do feel it's a power-grab by the executive, answering the letter of the TPers' prayers while destroying them on the substance ... kinda like Prop. 13, no?

    Ah, unintended consequences, third time I've seen it this week ...

  •  Look for a power shift to the followin committees (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Goobergunch, roadbear

    House Ways & Means and Senate Finance:

    There are two major ways to help out constituents directly and visibly:  bring home the bacon or reduce their tax burden.  If earmark reform holds, rank and file members will start looking for ways to target tax law changes to the benefit of their constituents.

    House Transportation and Infrastructure, Senate Environment and and Public Works, and Senate Banking:

    These three committees will determine all transportation and policy funding for six years when the transportation reauthorization bill comes up (possibly this year).  A lot of projects will be included in this, and members will fight for them to get into their districts.

    But let's consider something here about earmarks in general:  I have to respect the ability of anyone who supported flushing  $ trillions down the toilet in Iraq and Afghanistan to blame our budget problems on earmarks.  Keeping a straight face during that argument takes strength.

    If we really want to have a sane budget policy, we need to address military spending first and foremost.  I would back almost any earmark request a member of Congress wanted if they were to get serious about that first.

    Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. -Frank Zappa

    by TheGrandWazoo on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:24:46 PM PST

  •  if congress doesn't like it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    they can override the veto. "power grab" talk is stupid.

  •  Michele Bachmann is going to be PO'd (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, skillet

    She's been trying to build a bridge in MN for years.  I'm willing to bet we hear her whining on FNoise momentarily!

  •  Regardless of what it really is (0+ / 0-)

    I recall the other day reading right here from someone that the earmarks ban was an attempt at a power grab by the president.  

    That is really weird that I would hear it from Blunt as well!

    "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand."

    by otto on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:31:24 PM PST

    •  and reid telling the prez to "back off" would (0+ / 0-)

      suggest he feels the same. and no doubt as do the vast majority of congress-critters

      "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." ~ Mark Twain

      by VoiceFromIowa on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:52:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is totally confusing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The halt of earmarks has put an end to needed projects in my city that were in the works for over a decade, supported by Hilary Clinton, Schumer, Louise Slaughter, Brian Higgins. A new customs plaza on the border between Buff/Niagara and Canada being the big one since a more efficient crossing is good for the economy. This project was essentially killed.

    But the stimulus, which was supposed to stimulate, sits in the coffers of the Erie county Chair's office, a Republican of course, who has been busy slashing services (heartlessly, like the non-profit health clinics which were cutting costs for servicing people with health needs) and hording stimulus money ($98 million for a local area of less than 1 million people).

    So, I'm scratching my head. If the ineffectual stimulus and other Fed programs are THE way to get the economy going instead of having congressman route dough to local projects, then how is it going to happen when the money is sitting in a bank?

    There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind who don't.

    by upstate NY on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:35:38 PM PST

  •  Hasn't Blunt ever read the constitution? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm sure if he does he might notice Article 1 Section 7 where the president is granted the power of the veto.

    So tell me, how does the president exercising a power granted to him by the constitution amount to a power grab?

    I won't watch your M$NBC.

    by Walt starr on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:41:41 PM PST

  •  the old game of playing chicken. (0+ / 0-)

    who will blink? think we probably know the answer.

    "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." ~ Mark Twain

    by VoiceFromIowa on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:47:41 PM PST

  •  It appears the Senate is blinking, yes? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If you mean to say Obama will blink, then I'm not part of the "we" in "think we probably know the answer."

    Ds see human suffering and wonder what they can do to relieve it. Rs see human suffering and wonder how they can profit from it.

    by JTinDC on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 04:51:52 PM PST

    •  I thought the President was virtually powerless.. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nathguy the face of the all-powerful legislature, which is why Gitmo is still open and there's no public option, right?

      •  I think this is strategic. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        And if played correctly will result in the GOP having to either defend earmarks or lose the political advantage when their states get new stuff without their names on it.

        Mr Waldman said up thread:

        Much of the money will end up going to exactly the same place. It'll just be sent there by the Department of Agriculture instead of Senator Bumpus.

        I like this idea. This could be useful in combatting the demonization of the federal government.

        Ds see human suffering and wonder what they can do to relieve it. Rs see human suffering and wonder how they can profit from it.

        by JTinDC on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 05:14:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  "An earmark by any other name" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fat old man, Matt Z

    If a Democrat tries to spend on a project, it will be called an earmark. But Republicans will simply do as they always do. . .change the language to fit the situation. They will call their pet projects something else entirely.

    I can hear Frank Lutz's phone ringing from here.

  •  Obama forced their hand (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    They aren't going to create a showdown among Democrats when the president said in black and white terms he would veto. That was a stupid, stupid, stupid move by Obama, of all the things he could promise to veto, he picked earmarks. Stupid.

  •  it's "lies down," not "lays"... (0+ / 0-)

    Sorry to focus on trivialities but this particular grammatical error drives me nuts, especially coming from a writer as good as you. "Lay" is transitive and takes an object. "Lie" is intransitive.

    Other than that, great piece.

    Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

    by Alna Dem on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 07:43:15 PM PST

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