Friday, November 12, 2010

Inhofe Pushes Merits Of Earmarking

By Manu Raju/Politico ~ Tea party activists are stepping up their involvement in an internal Senate GOP battle over whether to ban earmarks, and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe is pushing back aggressively.

Inhofe has engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort aimed at convincing tea party groups of the value of earmarks, including by circulating a 20-page document that makes the case that it’s Congress’ job to appropriate money and that a number of projects are rooted in the national and local interest.

The 75-year-old, four-term senator, who boasts of being the most conservative senator, has been relentless, according to several accounts. Moments after the Tea Party Patriots issued a missive to 200,000 members backing the earmark ban, Inhofe tried to reach one of the group’s leaders on her cell phone. When he couldn’t connect, he tried again. When that was unsuccessful, his staff sent text messages urging her to call him back. Finally, one of the group’s co-founders, Mark Meckler, returned Inhofe’s phone call Wednesday. It was a brief conversation, where Inhofe said he wanted to provide Meckler’s group with an essay entitled “the secret about earmarks” that said eliminating them “won’t save taxpayers a single dime.”

And he urged Meckler to give the essay to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is the chairman of the tea party-aligned Freedom Works.

Meckler said in an interview that the phone call was “bizarre,” adding that “we normally don’t have a lot of direct contact with senators.”

Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for Inhofe, said that the senator has been making calls to several different leaders of tea party groups in advance of next week’s vote.

“These are friends,” Dempsey said. “And he’s not shy about making his case.”

With voters angry over Washington spending, proponents of earmarks have an uphill climb to convince skeptics of the value of earmarks – for projects ranging from military installations to medical research – that are constantly derided as pork. But Inhofe said he can change the minds of people who have been “brainwashed.”

“My response is that’s what they told me eight years ago on global warming, when I was all alone exposing that hoax,” he writes in a letter he's providing tea party activists and right-wing radio commentators.

With a vote Tuesday calling for the GOP to ban earmarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s opposition was seen as enough to defeat the plan – especially since it’s been proposed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who is deeply unpopular with many of his colleagues.

But one thing McConnell can’t control: the sway of tea party activists, who are beginning to mount an aggressive lobbying push to demand that wobbly Republican senators take a firm line and publicly announce their support for the two-year earmark moratorium.

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