In a closely read address delivered at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell provided a strongly worded action plan for the next two years in what was once justifiably known as the world's greatest deliberative body. With his caucus much strengthened by voters, McConnell's views are doubly important in the wake of Tuesday's shellacking of President Obama and his agenda. This is because, while Harry Reid survived to fight another day, a host of his Democratic colleagues must face voters in 2012, so many of them will regularly side with McConnell rather than their returning Senate majority leader.
There was much in McConnell's remarks to cheer, including his unapologetic insistence on repealing or at least defunding Obamacare and denying Obama a second term in the White House: "But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won't veto any of these things." McConnell is no more wrong to plan his legislative strategy around the 2012 presidential election than Obama is to plan his moves according to what he believes will best advance his prospects for winning a second term. We were also cheered to hear McConnell say the election results mean "sticking ever more closely to the conservative principles that got us here. It means learning the lessons of history. And, above all, it means listening to the people who sent us here."
McConnell's sole discordant note came when he was asked if he would support in the Senate an earmark moratorium like that adopted by House Republicans. He said he was skeptical of a moratorium because "it's really just a question about discretion." It is indeed an issue of discretion whether senators should in the form of earmarks give tax dollars to favored spending projects, family members, former aides, or campaign donors. Voters have made clear since before 2005 when the infamous Bridge to Nowhere came to public notice that they want wasteful federal spending stopped, especially when it is used to win votes or reward friends.
But that won't happen as long as earmarks remain the coin of the congressional log-rolling realm. As Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has often said, earmarks are the "gateway drug to federal spending addiction." Legislators are induced to support spending bills they would otherwise oppose only because the measures contain their earmarks. Old Bull senators like McConnell may be right on senatorial privilege and congressional precedent, but, if he means what he said about listening to the people, he will join Coburn and other congressional conservatives who understand that earmarks must end if federal spending and debt are ever to be reduced.