WASHINGTON — After months of resistance, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, announced Tuesday that he would enforce a ban on earmarks in all Senate spending bills, ending a cherished practice by lawmakers of directing funds to their states and districts that had become a symbol of wasteful excess.
The Senate moratorium, which will remain in place for two years, follows a similar move by the Republican-led House and a veto threat by President Obama in his State of the Union address last week. It's the latest signal that Democrats are feeling political pressure on the issue of deficit reduction and are willing to consider measures that they until recently dismissed as posturing by their Republican adversaries.
Inouye said, "The handwriting is clearly on the wall. … Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law."
Hours earlier, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a top GOP target in her bid for a second term in 2012, unveiled legislation with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and other Republicans to shrink federal spending on all government programs, including Social Security and Medicare, to a much smaller percentage of the economy. The proposal represented the most draconian deficit reduction effort yet to be endorsed by a Democrat.
And Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., another Democratic newcomer from a swing state, announced Tuesday that he would co-sponsor a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a top conservative priority that has resurfaced in recent weeks in the deficit reduction plans of numerous GOP lawmakers.
The Democratic action reflects a growing recognition that, even as the top priority for Obama and his party remains job creation, the record deficits and $14 trillion national debt are becoming equally urgent concerns.