Reporting from Washington — The long congressional battle over specially-directed earmark spending came to a quiet close Tuesday as the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee announced a two-year ban on the practice.
The decision to prohibit earmarks reflects the political stalemate that arose as President Obama vowed to veto any legislation with the congressionally-directed spending. Republicans had already agreed to abandon the practice.
"The handwriting is clearly on the wall," said Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. "The president has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law."
Obama's veto promise during last week's State of the Union address offered a bridge to congressional Republicans on spending issues. But it put the president at odds with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, and others who support Congress' right to earmark funds for home states.
Republican leaders welcomed the prohibition, even as there is audible dissent within their own ranks over the ban.
"I applaud Chairman Inouye for recognizing that earmarks are not acceptable with the fiscal situation facing our nation," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader.
In announcing the decision, Inouye noted his own support for the earmark process and said the ban would be revisited next year. For now, such spending requests will be rejected in the fiscal 2011 and 2012 spending bills, he said.
"When the consequences of this decision are fully understood by the members of this body, we will most certainly revisit this issue and explore ways to improve the earmarking process," Inouye said.
Earmarks have been long targeted by budget watchdogs as excessive government spending, amplified by the "bridge to nowhere" and other expenditures for a particular region. But lawmakers who support the practice say Congress should not cede its constitutional authority to determine federal outlays on home-state projects. Earmarks generally account for less than 1% of the federal budget.