Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) twice declined to call for all earmarks to be stripped from the omnibus spending bill now before Congress.
"What we need to do is shrink the overall size of the pie," said McConnell when asked if he would call for an earmark ban. "The overall size of this bill is too large. We ought to shrink it down to the size it should be, which is eight percent less than it is now."
The reporter followed up: "And the earmarks?"
"Well, you can haggle about what's in it, but the pie is too big," he said. "And rather than focus on the pieces of the pie, the thing to do is to shrink the pie down."
Republicans in the House have generally taken a strong stand against earmarks, but in the Senate's more collegial atmosphere, the congressional prerogative is more often defended. Senators on both sides of the aisle point out that the Constitution gives Congress the power to appropriate funds -- and it's a power they are loath to give up.
That can drive the GOP base nuts. Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative blog RedState, told the Huffington Post that he was "not surprised Senator McConnell would not call for earmarks to come out. He just ran a re-election campaign themed on bringing home the bacon. There has not been a real commitment on either side of the aisle to clean up the culture of corruption in Washington -- just words."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), at a press conference after McConnell's, strongly defended the congressional right to direct funds to particular projects, otherwise known as earmarking.