WASHINGTON — Barack Obama's top ally in the Senate Tuesday brusquely rejected the president's call for a ban on the practice of stuffing home state projects known as earmarks into spending bills.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the president "has enough power already" and that Obama's reported embrace Tuesday night of an earmark ban promoted by Republicans is just a "lot of pretty talk."
Reid made his remarks at a news conference in which he otherwise praised Obama in advance of Tuesday's State of the Union address.
Reid is a skilled practitioner of earmarking, in which lawmakers direct projects like new roads, grants to local police departments and community development grants to their states and congressional districts.
Obama has frequently said he opposes earmarks but he has repeatedly accepted them in larger spending bills. The earmark ban has been driven chiefly by House Speaker John Boehner, who vows not to send Obama any spending bills containing them.
Opponents of earmarks say they too often divert money from worthy projects into wasteful ones. An explosion of earmarking under GOP control of Congress in the late 1990s and early 2000s sparked a "pay to play" culture in which lobbyists and business executives seeking earmarks lubricate the system with campaign contributions.
The earmark ban is one of the few areas where Obama and tea party activists are in agreement, but Reid said the idea unfairly "takes power away from the legislative branch of government. And I think that's the wrong thing to do."