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U.S. Senate Democrats Agree to Push for Moratorium on Earmarks

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senate Democrats reversed themselves and decided to accede to bipartisan demands to suspend the practice of funding legislative pet projects, known as earmarking.

“The handwriting is clearly on the wall,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat and longtime defender of earmarks, said yesterday.

President Barack Obama “has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them,” Inouye said. “Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.”

Many senators have resisted the push to crack down on earmarking, saying they see as part of their jobs the right to direct federal agencies to spend money on specific projects.

Individual lawmakers in both parties typically earmarked more than $100 million in annual spending. Some, such as Inouye and Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, were responsible for more than $350 million per year, according to calculations by the Washington-based Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, last week called Obama’s threats to veto earmarks, issued in his State of the Union address, “a lot of pretty talk” that is “the wrong thing to do” because “it is only giving the president more power.” In November, the Senate defeated a proposal by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to ban the projects for three years.

Shorthand for Voters

The reversal by Senate Democrats is a victory for House Republicans, who last year adopted an earmark moratorium -- later accepted by their Senate counterparts -- in a bid to show Tea Party activists they were serious about cutting spending. Even though earmarks represent only a sliver of federal spending

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Faler in Washington at bfaler@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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