Robert Novak brightened my day by writing that John "I’m the Sheriff" McCain and his Republican colleagues will be at odds this week over the practice of earmarking, which big-name Republicans decry even as they rack up massive amounts of pork for the voters back home.
Sen. Jim DeMint, a first-term reform Republican from South Carolina, is to propose a one-year, no-loopholes moratorium on earmarks as a budget amendment. McCain has announced his support for the amendment and intends to co-sponsor it.
DeMint wants to coordinate McCain’s visits to the Senate floor from the campaign trail so the candidate can be there to speak and vote for the moratorium.
Excellent! The Bush administration has presided over a period of obvious fiscal irresponsibility to-date. If McCain holds his ground on this issue – and what choice does he have, given the promises he’s already made to voters? – he will gain credibility with fiscal conservatives while doing the country a much-needed service.
One possible victim of the quest to eliminate earmarks could be Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader and pork-barrel politician extraordinaire. McConnell recently appointed a task force to study the practice, a group dominated by Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Novak writes:
Cochran, who not long ago suggested McCain is unfit to be president, has secured $774 million in earmarks this year. Add the earmarks of three other members — Lugar, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Mike Crapo of Idaho — and the task force itself accounts for more than $1.1 billion in pork.
"Everyone knows," a Senate reformer told me, "Cochran will never allow his right to earmark to be diminished." Since McConnell insists on "consensus" without a majority or minority report, all that will come out of the task force is a call for "transparency."
It’s imperative to McCain’s future that he hold the line on budgetary restraint and the fight over earmarks is possibly the most visible battle to be fought this year. It would certainly be no loss to the country if Mitch McConnell were to be defeated in this year’s elections. In fact, McConnell’s demise – as well as Cochran’s – would be a small, possibly even desirable, price to pay for a return to fiscal restraint in Washington.