After DeMint: How Will Senate Democrats Handle Earmarks?

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So Mitch McConnell has folded, handing Jim DeMint and company a victory in their Tea Party-backed crusade to eliminate the scourge of earmarks, which they call a perfect symbol of institutionalized Washington corruption. The House GOP has done the same, and even the Obama White House–seeing an obvious winning issue–is hopping the anti-earmark bandwagon. It might seem like an easy call for Harry Reid and the Senate’s Democrats, who after all still control their chamber’s budget process, to follow suit. But it looks like that may not happen:

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and a veteran member of the Appropriations Committee, said “the president is dead wrong on this issue.”

“I think there’s a valid and good reason why senators and congressmen should be able to direct certain monies,” Mr. Harkin said.

A spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said individual senators should decide if they favor earmarks. Because Democrats will retain control of the Senate in the next Congress, a decision by them to continue allowing earmarks could keep the practice alive, at least in spending bills passed by the upper chamber.

And this from Bloomberg:

“I don’t think the earmark process will disappear,” said Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

It’s one thing for safe incumbents like Rockefeller, Harkin and (now) Reid to talk that way. I suspect that vulnerable Democratic senators who are up for re-election in 2012–people like Jim Webb, Sherrod Brown, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Maria Cantwell, and Jon Tester–might be singing a different tune in the coming days. Something to keep an eye on.