WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this afternoon launched into a vociferous defense of congressional earmarks, branding Republicans “hypocrites” and pushing back against President Obama.
At one point, the soft-spoken Nevada Democrat pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his suit jacket and waived it in the air.
“The little Constitution that we have doesn’t have a lot of information in it, but what is in it is what runs this country,” he said. “And I am convinced that I do not want to give up more power to the White House, whether it’s George Bush or Barack Obama. And I’m going to fight as hard as I can against President Obama on these earmarks -- and my Republican colleagues who hate to vote for them but love to get them.”
Earmarks are provisions added by a legislator to a bill that directs money to a specific project, instead of going through normal funding channels that typically are reviewed by government agencies. President Obama and Republicans have criticized the funding practice in recent months.
Reid is pushing for a large spending bill to be approved before Saturday night -- one that includes more than $8 billion in earmarks -- when current funding authorizations expire. If Reid’s effort fails, the Senate would probably continue funding the federal government at current levels.
“People are saying, ‘Why should we vote for this, it’s got congressional directed spending in it?’” Reid said. “That’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
He also took aim at Republicans who have criticized the bill, even after they had previously requested earmarks that are included in it. For example, Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, has said he would fight to kill the bill, even as he sponsored earmarks worth at least $112 million in the measure, according to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.
“Some of the people who speak out against congressionally directed spending, or earmarks, are people who have more earmarks than others,” Reid said. “They’re hoping, of course, it will pass and they can go home and do the press…saying, ‘Here I am, cut the ribbon, look what I did.’ You can’t have it both ways.”
“You can all look it up in the dictionary yourself,” he added. “But I bet if you went to H in the dictionary and found hypocrite, under that would be people who ask for earmarks but then vote against them.”
In the next breath, he said, “I would hope that we would cut down the mean-spirited talk about this, and just do our jobs.”
When asked later whether his own comment branding Republicans as hypocrites was a little mean-spirited, he said, “It could be.”
Reid also threatened to keep the Senate in session until early next year, when the next Congress officially begins, as a way to ensure votes on several other issues. Republicans have threatened to employ several delay tactics -- and they've criticized Reid for pushing to meet over the holidays.
“I hope that’s not necessary, but that’s the clock that my Republican colleagues have to run out,” Reid said. “It’s a long clock. I don’t want to be here. I’ve got a big family in Nevada, and I’d love to go back and visit with them. And I’m going to do that, but I’m not going to let the country’s work not be completed as a result of that. I get paid whether I’m here in Washington or in Nevada.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.