Sen. Lamar Alexander defended on Wednesday his change of heart about banning congressional earmarks, saying he now supports a moratorium as a short-term pause in his pursuit of federal spending for Tennessee.
“I came to the conclusion that earmarks have become a symbol of wasteful spending, and we needed to take a timeout to clean them up,” Alexander told reporters in a conference call. “The American people sent a strong message in November that cleaning up earmarks is part of the whole job of ending wasteful spending and controlling the debt. I think we need to listen to the American people on that.”
In the past, Alexander has opposed banning earmarks because he said they have enabled him to secure money for worthy Tennessee projects, most recently $50 million to fix the leaky Center Hill Dam.
“The system needs to be reformed,” the senator said on Steve Gill’s radio show last year. “But you know if you have a couple of bad acts at the Grand Ole Opry, you don’t cancel the Opry. You cancel the acts. That’s what we need to do here.”
But in a sign of the strength of the Tea Party movement in their party, Alexander joined Senate Republicans Monday in opening the lame-duck session of Congress by committing to an earmark moratorium. President Obama also supports a ban. Some Senate Democratic leaders are opposed.
“We shouldn’t mislead anyone into thinking that an earmark ban will save much money. It doesn’t,” Alexander told reporters. “It’s more about good government than saving money. As a short-term policy, it’s good. But as a long-term policy, it wouldn’t be because it just turns over the spending decisions to the president. This election was supposed to be about checking the president — not giving him the checkbook.
“But for a short-term two-year policy, a moratorium to finish the job of cleaning up earmarks, I think it’s a good policy,” he added.
Also this week, Senate Republicans reelected Alexander to their No. 3 leadership post for the 112th Congress that begins in January.