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Are Senate Democrats getting religion -- fiscal religion, that is?
Sen. Daniel Inouye, head of the Appropriations Committee, says he will enforce a ban on earmarks -- costly, unauthorized add-ons that get slipped into spending bills, often for the benefit of narrow special interests. Inouye (D-Hawaii) imposed the two-year moratorium in the aftermath of President Obama's State of the Union threat to veto special interest projects that land on his desk. Yet just last week, Inouye's colleague, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- no shirker when it comes to pork-barrel spending -- minimized the veto threat as an "applause line."
Not to Inouye. "The handwriting is clearly on the wall," he said Tuesday. ". . . Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests [in committee] that have no chance of being enacted." House Republicans have called for a similar ban on extra spending that's inserted into legislation, even when the items have not been requested by federal agencies.
Inouye, first elected in 1962, is not the only liberal Democrat facing up to the peril of trillion-dollar annual deficits.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has decided to co-sponsor a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a longtime GOP priority. "The way I see it, American families have to balance their checkbooks, especially in hard times, and the federal government doesn't have to do the same thing," Udall told the Denver Post. "We've balanced the budget five times in 50 years and we've racked up record amounts of debt levels. It's my strong belief we have to take action now."
The budget amendment, which would have to be ratified by two-thirds of the states if it clears Congress, would allow an exception for times of war. Udall's co-sponsor is Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
Also Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who must stand for reelection next year in a swing state coveted by Republicans, proposed a bipartisan bill that would pinch spending on most government programs, even Social Security and Medicare. Her co-sponsor is Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
McCaskill called the legislation a "bold step" that could actually disadvantage her politically. "It has risks. If this bill is distorted and twisted it could cost me my Senate seat," she said in a speech on the floor of the chamber. "But it's a price I'm willing to pay for my country, and it's a price I'm willing to pay for my grandchildren."
Folo Tom Diemer on Twitter http://twitter.com/tomdiemer
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