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Washington • Sen. Bob Bennett says he grasps the political need for Republicans to reject earmarks, but he says the practicality of doing so means Congress just handed the president more power.
"I understand fully the psychology of earmarks," the Utah Republican said Wednesday. The public has connected earmarks, which are projects funded at the direction of an individual member of Congress, with wasteful spending, particularly after ethics scandals in recent years.
But Bennett, one of the Senate's more prolific practitioners of the tactic, says people don't understand that with earmarks, members of Congress determine where money already in the budget should be spent they are not spending additional money.
Rooting out earmarks allows the executive branch to determine where that money goes.
Bennett lost his re-election bid and Sen.-elect Mike Lee campaigned against earmarks.
Lee and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said they supported the two-year earmark moratorium that Senate Republicans approved Tuesday night on a voice vote in closed caucus. Senate Democrats have not taken any anti-earmark pledge.
Bennett said he talked with Republican senators Wednesday.
"They think the ban on earmarks is absolutely the right thing to do to position themselves for the election in 2012," he said. "And they are all worried about what will happen, because they realized that they just ceded significant powers to the president."
Hatch said he supports a ban on projects meant to make a senator look good to voters, but he also said Bennett has a point.
"We will have to find ways to help the truly worthy projects," he said. "Don't worry, I will be looking for ways to do that without abusing the earmark process."