Two years after basing his reelection campaign on his ability and power to score big bucks for Kentucky (see video from the 2008 campaign below), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reversed course on Monday. endorsing a moratorium on earmarks, the very process McConnell used to bring home the bacon to the Bluegrass.
The move marks a victory for Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul (R), who publicly challenged McConnell's earmark use. McConnell had endorsed Paul's opponent, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, in the GOP primary, while anti-earmark crusader Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) endorsed Paul. At times, Paul had refused to endorse McConnell to return as Republican Leader of the U.S. Senate.
In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell said he had listened to the message voters sent in the midterm elections, yet McConnell also defended his previous earmarks as necessary and worthwhile expenditures.
As recently as last week, McConnell had expressed frustration that if the Congress bans earmarks, it would forfeit discretionary spending decisions to the president.
The Kentucky lawmaker announced his concession on the Senate floor, moments after the start of a lame-duck session of Congress that could stretch into mid-December. McConnell's announcement served as recognition that his bid to retain the practice of steering money to pet projects was losing steam to an emboldened coalition of tea party-backed senators, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
"Make no mistake, I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don't apologize for them," McConnell said. "But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we're willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government."
In 2008, I covered McConnell's bus tour as it stopped in Grayson County:
"Under the constitution, every Senator has one vote, but I assure you every Senator is not equal," McConnell said.
Mitch McConnell's lunch in Grayson County today was fish from Rough River Lake, but it might as well have been pork.
"The guy you're lookin' at, your Senator, the Republican Leader of the Senate, brought home to the Commonwealth last year $500 million."
McConnell told the crowd that Democratic opponent Bruce Lunsford won't even live long enough to build up the kind of clout McConnell has now to exercise influence on Kentucky's behalf.