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In Backing Earmark Ban, McConnell Won’t Cede Credit to DeMint

Updated: 5:19 p.m.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday announced that he was dropping his opposition to an earmark ban in the Senate, all but ensuring the Senate GOP will adopt the ban this week.

In a floor speech, the Kentucky Republican said that while he would not apologize for his earmarking past, he understands that public opinion has turned against the practice. Arguing that Democrats were on the losing end of the election this year in part because they ignored the public, McConnell said that “when it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.”

“We risk losing the public on the broader efforts” of controlling spending and the debt if Senate Republicans do not adopt the ban, McConnell said. As a result, McConnell said he “will join the Republican leadership in the House in supporting a ban on earmarks.”

McConnell, who as an appropriator has spent years pursuing millions of dollars for specific projects in his state, acknowledged he is backing the ban with some reluctance.

“I’m not wild about turning over more spending authority to the executive branch,” he said. But the “only way we will be able to turn the corner and save our future is if elected leaders like me make the kinds of difficult decisions voters are clearly asking us to make.”

McConnell’s decision comes just more than 24 hours before the Senate GOP Conference is expected to vote on the unilateral earmark ban. That effort, spearheaded by Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), has gained significant support in the Conference. And with the public increasingly in support of the ban, McConnell appears to have seen the writing on the wall.

But McConnell showed no interest in giving DeMint a victory. He instead gave the credit to the “Republican leadership in the House.”

Although DeMint has repeatedly said he has no designs on the top GOP job in the Senate — or any official position in leadership — he has clearly been attempting to build a conservative base of power within the chamber to challenge decisions by McConnell and force the party to the right politically.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) hailed McConnell’s decision.

“House and Senate Republican leaders are listening to the American people, and are united in support of an earmark ban. An earmark moratorium shows that elected officials are serious about restoring trust between the American people and those who are elected to represent them. This is a strong first step — though only a first step — towards making the tough choices required to get our country back on track. We hope President Obama and Washington Democrats will show they are serious, and join us in this effort to restore the public trust,” Boehner said in a statement.

President Barack Obama also applauded McConnell and urged further efforts to cut spending.

“I welcome Senator McConnell’s decision to join me and members of both parties who support cracking down on wasteful earmark spending, which we can’t afford during these tough economic times,” Obama said in a statement Monday. “As a Senator, I helped eliminate anonymous earmarks, and as President, I’ve called for new limitations on earmarks and set new, higher standards of transparency and accountability. But we can’t stop with earmarks as they represent only part of the problem. In the days and weeks to come, I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to not only end earmark spending, but to find other ways to bring down our deficits for our children.”

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