After House Republicans unveiled their anticipated “Pledge to America” last week, it quickly fell under heavy criticism for failing to include a ban on earmarks. Even right-wing groups are attacking Republican congressmen for this key omission. Matt Kibbe, president of one of the leading tea party groups FreedomWorks, called it “disappointing,” while the right-wing group Club for Growth said that without an earmark ban, “the Pledge has no teeth.” The Center Against Government Waste piled on as well, declaring that “if the Republicans regain control of the House and go back to their old earmarking ways it could be a VERY short majority for the Republicans.”
ThinkProgress went to Capitol Hill this week to see why Republicans congressmen were against including an earmark ban in the Pledge. What we found was collective apathy on the issue. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) told us tersely that “the pledge is a great beginning, and that’s all I have to say right now.” Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) said an earmark moratorium that expires before Republicans would even take power was sufficient and there was no need to go further. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) refused to address the issue altogether.
Prospects for earmark reform aren’t much brighter among Senate Republicans either. In an interview with National Review Online, Tea Party Godfather Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said earmark reform wasn’t included in the GOP Pledge because “there was some pushback from the Senate.” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) echoed this view in an interview with Fox News yesterday, telling host Neil Cavuto that Republican leaders in the Senate would not eliminate earmarks until they were forced to do so by rank-and-file members:
CAVUTO: But I don’t hear it out of the leadership. So I suspect, when I hear your party leadership rallying against earmarks, not under our watch, and then someone puts a question to them, so, will you end them all, well, well, not so fast. So, I hear the same B.S. out of them.
COBURN: [Americans] are going to see the foolishness that goes on up here, and rightly so. And that is why the vast majority of the people who are running on my side of the aisle for the Senate have said, I am not doing any earmarks. And that is 11 out of the 15 that are running. So, if we get those 11 people here, that’s going to make a big difference. And then we’re going to have leadership that is going to say that.
CAVUTO: If Mitch McConnell has not ruled out earmarks, would you vote for him to be your majority leader should Republicans assume control of the Senate?
COBURN: I think what has to happen is, we need to have the caucus say we’re not going to do earmarks. And when we vote that, then it is not going to happen. And he’s going to follow our lead.
An earmark ban wasn’t included in the pledge for a simple reason: establishment Republicans still love earmarks. Consequently, support for pork barrel appropriations is unlikely to abate should Republicans win control of Congress in November. Two weeks ago, Politico reported that “with their eyes on a House majority, Republicans are leaving the door open to allowing earmarks after a one-year party-imposed moratorium.” A week later, GOP whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) confirmed that Republicans are eyeing a return of earmarks if they retake the majority.
Though some Republicans like Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have waged a lonely fight in the GOP against earmarks, only recently have other Republicans signed on to the issue with an election-year stunt. However, when the GOP had an opportunity to implement this idea in their Pledge, they balked. It’s increasingly clear that the House GOP won’t heed the words of country music star Toby Keith: “a little less talk, a lot more action.“