In a remarkable turnabout, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell shifted gears from fighting a two-year moratorium on earmarks to whole-heartedly embracing it. A long time member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and defender of pet project spending, McConnell said he simply could not ignore the will of the American people any longer and said it was time for him to "lead first by example."
The leader repeated a criticism he has lodged in recent weeks against the ban, authored in the Senate by Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, that it was "small or even symbolic" action, but McConnell said Monday, "There is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as the symbol of the waste and out of control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight."
"Right now we've got over 500 congressmen and senators who are in Washington who think it's their job to bring home the bacon. And that takes your eye off the ball. I mean, we're not working on important national issues when we're trying to pave a local parking lot," DeMint told Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace.
But in calls to his GOP colleague in days past, McConnell denigrated the DeMint earmark ban as excessive and unnecessary, but it was clear after a rough election season in which American voters expressed their disgust with the rising deficit and debt, along with pork barrel spending, the tide was turning toward passage of the nonbinding resolution.
The action by McConnell avoids a major split within his party, while not conceding much, and puts the leader squarely on the side of the powerful, grassroots Tea Party movement.
While saying he was "not wild about turning over more spending authority to the executive branch," the leader sought to firmly put the onus onto the White House to rein in pet projects.
"With Republicans in Congress now united, it's now up to President," McConnell chided in a Senate floor speech. "We have said we are willing to give up discretion. Now we'll see how he handles spending decisions. And if the president ends up with total discretion over spending, we will see more clearly where his priorities lie."
McConnell was clearly pained to concede this new position, however, noting two earmarks in particular that were effective for his state, one involving the clean up of an environmentally-hazardous sight in Paducah where plant workers were then able to be screened for cancer.
"This is no small thing. Old habits are not easy to break, but sometimes they must be," the leader acknowledged. "American voters...gave us a second chance. With this decision, I'm telling them they're right to put their trust in us."