Standoff within the Senate GOP …

over earmarks.

Fresh off the tea party’s show of election might, GOP Sen. Jim DeMint said Tuesday he’ll force a showdown next week with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other old guard Republicans over “earmarked” pet projects that DeMint and other victors last week made a symbol of out-of-control deficit spending.

The South Carolina Republican, buoyed by support from six GOP freshman, is optimistic he’ll win a change in internal GOP rules to effectively bar any Republican from seeking earmarks.

“Americans want Congress to shut down the earmark favor factory, and next week I believe House and Senate Republicans will unite to stop pork barrel spending,” DeMint said.

DeMint won backing from 25 Senate Republicans, including McConnell, earlier this year to impose an earmark ban on Republicans and Democrats alike. Despite winning the support of a majority of Republicans, the proposal was easily defeated by Democrats and 14 pro-earmark Republicans. Thirty-three of 41 Senate Republicans then sought earmarks in this year’s unfinished roster of spending bills.

McConnell, however, isn’t enthusiastic about the idea of a ban now. And he finds himself caught in the middle of an unwelcome battle dividing his party and opening it to criticism from anti-pork tea party activists who helped Republicans take back the House and elect several anti-earmark senators.

Among the GOP freshman supporting Sen. DeMint’s proposal is Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson.

Cosponsoring DeMint’s proposal, to be unveiled at next week’s Senate Republican Conference, are Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), John Ensign (R-Nevada), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) as well as Senators-elect Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), and Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire).

The proposal sets up a standoff between the Tea Party wing of the Senate GOP – Lee, Johnson, Paul and Rubio all got strong Tea Party pushes during their campaigns – and establishment Republicans in the Senate such as minority leader Mitch McConnell.

An early battle between the Tea Party and “The Establishment”?

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