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House Republicans, besting Democrats, will ban all earmarks

House Republicans said Thursday they will adopt a unilateral, one-year ban on funding requests for all member projects, or earmarks. House Democrats put forward a partial ban the day before.

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“Perception is reality,” says Rep. David Dreier of California, the top Republican on the Rules Committee. “There is a perception that every penny of US tax dollars is going to earmarks.” [In fact, it’s less than 2 percent.] “The American people are angry, and we want to signal that we get the message,” he adds.

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The move was a special vindication for Rep. Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona, who, since coming to the House in 2001, has waged a near-one-man campaign for banning earmarks.

After two years of wearing down his colleagues on the point at caucus meetings, he took his objections to the floor of the House, where he engineered hundreds of votes to challenge individual member projects.

In 2007, he won his only victory when House members voted to cut out a $129,000 earmark for “the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree” in North Carolina.

“The fact that Democrats have decided to go ahead with an earmark ban was motivating to us,” he said. "Hopefully, the Democrats will now match us.”

On the Senate side, there is little interest in joining the race to limit earmarks. “I don’t believe this policy or ceding authority to the executive branch on any spending decision is in the best interests of the Congress or the American people,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a statement. “In my view it does not make sense to discriminate against for-profit organizations.”

But Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, the Senate’s version of an earmark gadfly, hailed the House Republicans' move as long overdue. It’s a “common sense step that will help Congress win back the trust of the public and tackle our mounting fiscal challenges,” he said in a statement.

Even if the Senate fails to act, President Obama, who campaigned against earmarks, could sway the outcome, watchdog groups say. “The Senate is still not immune to public pressure, and if the president says, ‘I’m going to veto any spending bill that has earmarks for for-profit companies in it,’ he could be a game-changer,” says Mr. Ellis.