Voters give pork pushers the chop

By Walter Alarkon, The Hill

The landscape for earmarkers in Congress has changed dramatically this election cycle.

Appropriators from both parties have become the hunted, losing primary races to challengers more hawkish about reforming the provisions lawmakers insert in spending bills to steer money to specific projects in their districts or states.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) was derisively dubbed “Earmark Queen” by GOP gubernatorial primary winner Gov. Rick Perry’s supporters. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) was ousted last weekend by two earmark hawks. And Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, lost to a conservative Democrat who questioned the propriety and impact of Mollohan’s earmarks.

“There are still a few Republicans who don’t get it, but voters have caught on that earmarks lead to wasteful spending and debt,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a staunch earmark opponent. “People used to think that ‘bringing home the bacon’ would ensure reelection, but not anymore. Americans have seen how earmarks are used to bribe members into voting for bailouts, takeovers and huge spending bills.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) could be the next appropriator to go. His opponent in next week’s primary, Rep. Joe Sestak (D), has called for replacing the earmark process, dominated by senior appropriators, with a competitive grant process overseen by a new commission. The debate over earmark reform will only intensify in the general election, with the GOP candidate likely to be former Club for Growth President Pat Toomey.

“Big spenders are dropping like flies,” a senior Republican aide said.

It is clear that the anti-earmark movement has many hurdles to clear, but it has made progress over the last couple of years.

During the last election cycle, senators rejected an earmark moratorium proposed by DeMint. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) backed it, but it was soundly rejected, 29-71.

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