Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks through the halls of the U.S. Capitol on Monday. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
After years of using earmarks to send federal money to Kentucky, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced Monday that he supports a ban on the use of that funding process.
The move is a reflection of the more conservative Republican caucus in the Senate — led by Tea Party power hub Jim DeMint of South Carolina — that wants to send a message that it’s serious about cutting spending.
According to the Washington Post, McConnell has requested $1 billion worth of earmarks over his career. McConnell said he wasn’t apologizing for those requests but now supports a ban.
“But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight,” he said.
The Post also reports that the proposed earmarks ban wouldn’t be binding. Earmarks are a process by which lawmakers request appropriated federal dollars be sent to their home state or district for a specific use.
McConnell’s change of heart on the issue gained bipartisan support from leaders in the White House and House.
President Obama praised McConnell’s decision in a statement.
“I welcome Senator McConnell’s decision to join me and members of both parties who support cracking down on wasteful earmark spending, which we can’t afford during these tough economic times,” the president said.
House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner of Ohio also praised McConnell in a statement:
“An earmark moratorium shows that elected officials are serious about restoring trust between the American people and those who are elected to represent them. This is a strong first step — though only a first step — towards making the tough choices required to get our country back on track.”
Earmark spending represents a small part of the federal budget. According to Reuters, earmark spending for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was $15.9 billion — less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
For additional background on earmarks by lawmaker or state, click here.
THE COUNT GOES ON
Following Monday’s count of write-in ballots, Sen. Lisa Murkowski leads Republican Joe Miller by 1,706 votes in Alaska’s still-undecided Senate race.
Murkowski has 92,164 votes, including 7,601 that were challenged by the Miller campaign but deemed valid by election officials. Miller’s campaign has successfully challenged 1,869 write-in ballots for Murkowski.
Miller, meanwhile, stands at 90,458 votes, which includes 10 write-ins.
So far the state has tallied 94,674 of the 102,028 of the write-in ballots cast, leaving some 7,300 votes still to be counted. Those ballots were due to be examined Tuesday. More than 97 percent of the write-in votes have been going Murkowski’s way so far.
The state is also waiting on hundreds of absentee ballots that could arrive by Wednesday’s deadline.
THE PRESIDENT’S DAY
President Obama has a full day scheduled Tuesday at the White House after spending Monday resting up from his 10-day trip to Asia that concluded over the weekend.
The day includes the usual daily briefings behind closed doors, but the highlight will come at 2 p.m. EST when the president will award Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry.
Giunta placed himself in the line of fire to save two of his fellow soldiers during an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan in October 2007.
The 25-year-old Iowan is the first living soldier from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the nation’s highest military decoration.
Later, the president will hold another closed door meeting with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.
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