With a lot of new faces on Capitol Hill this week, as newly-elected Representatives and Senators - many of them backed by the Tea Party movement - come to town for freshman orientation, pressure on the Old Guard seems already to be making itself felt.
Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reversed his view of earmarks, supporting a moratorium - a position held by the Tea Party, and welcomed by President Obama.
Agreement? Is this a sign of things to come?
When asked if the demise of earmarks is the beginning of a cultural change in the nation's capital, Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina and a Tea Party supporter said yes: "I really think it is. And this is why Mitch McConnell is a great leader for the Republicans. He listened to fellow Republicans, but more importantly he listened to the voters.
"Parochial, wasteful, pork barrel earmarks have been wasting money for years here, and it's kept our focus on local parking garages rather than the nation's business," DeMint said on CBS' "The Early Show" this morning. "I think this is the beginning of a cultural change away from the culture of spending."
But is it merely symbolic? As anchor Harry Smith pointed out, earmarks in legislation in and of themselves aren't costly - they merely direct how money already appropriated should be spent.
DeMint disagreed: "It greases the skids for more spending, bad legislation. I've seen it happen for the 12 years that I've been in the House and the Senate. We need to end this, because you've got over 500 Congressmen and Senators today who think they're here to take home the bacon. The country is in too much trouble to have that kind of focus."
DeMint said he was not surprised Mr. Obama supported McConnell's reversal on protecting the earmark privilege. "The president co-sponsored this legislation when I introduced it when he was in the Senate, and so he's spoken out for it before," DeMint said. "I think it could be something that we work together on. We've got to look at every place to cut spending, and I think this is a great place to start."
When asked about the biggest issue facing Congress as it reconvenes for its lame duck session - whether to extend the Bush tax cuts and, if so, whether to include those earning above $250,000 a year - DeMint stated his view: "I think most people in Congress know, Harry, that we can't raise taxes in the middle of a recession.
"And the upper income that they talk about, being the rich, that includes 750,000 small businesses that employ tens of millions of Americans. We can't raise taxes on them," DeMint said.
"We're not trying to cut taxes," he said. "We just want to keep current rates the same."
[The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities characterized claims that 750,000 small businesses would face higher taxes if the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire as "exaggerated or false." They note that the figure commonly cited includes, according to IRS definitions, anyone who has claimed Schedule C, E or F income, as from a sole proprietorship, farm, partnership, S corporation, or rental income, including passive investments and the fees paid to CEOs on corporate boards.
Data from The Urban Institute shows that of taxpayers who report any such income, only 2 percent would see their taxes rise if the Bush cuts for those earning more than $250,000 were not extended].
DeMint said that he and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., plan to introduce legislation today that would make the current rates permanent.
"If we do that, then businesses will know what their taxes will be well out into the future, they can plan expansion, they can plan hiring people. We can't keep this uncertainty going in Washington."
When asked if he could accept, as a compromise, a two-year extension of the Bush tax rates rather than making them permanent, DeMint said, "Well, I don't know. I'm going to fight for the permanent. Two years is not enough to plan the expansion of a plant. So I think the short-term view that politicians have really doesn't work in our economy."
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