WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to abandon their use of earmarks in the new Congress, a move setting up an unusual alliance with the White House and exerting pressure on reluctant Democratic lawmakers to follow suit.
The vote by Senate Republicans represented an internal party decision. But along with a similar step expected today by counterparts in the House, it provided an early example of the influence of the tea party and the rising conservative movement that fueled the midterm electoral wave.
Just eight months ago, a similar proposal to do away with earmarks was overwhelmingly shot down in a Senate vote that included substantial Republican opposition.
Supporters of the earmark ban now will push for a full Senate floor vote and a promise from President Barack Obama to veto any spending bill containing earmarks.
Earmarks represent spending targeted at particular projects sought by lawmakers and are popular for their political appeal. But they also have become a symbol of excessive spending and government waste.
The earmark ban emerged as one of the top orders of business for Republicans in Congress as lawmakers returned to Washington this week following the midterm election in which the GOP took control of the House and expanded its numbers in the Senate.
Even though the new lawmakers do not take office until January, Republicans are under pressure to show conservative voters they understood the anti-spending message they believe came from the election.
The internal party vote came hours after senators from both parties elected their leadership teams for the new Congress, essentially reinstating veteran lawmakers who have led the Senate for the past several years.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was elected Republican leader and Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona the Republican whip. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada was elected as the majority leader and Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois the majority whip.
Reid also gave Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York an enhanced role in the No. 3 position and created a new spot on the leadership team for first-term Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska.
In a nod to tea-party priorities, Republican senators approved several other policy positions in a private meeting that include rolling back federal spending to 2008 levels, supporting a balanced-budget amendment, imposing a hiring freeze on nonsecurity federal employees, halting unspent stimulus funds, and banning new entitlement programs and federal mandates.
Like the vote to impose a two-year ban on earmarks, the other votes carry no binding authority but set the party’s direction.