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GOP Accuses Reid Of Breaking Word On Earmark Vote

The most hyped up budget vote of the year may lose some of its spark if Democrats get their way.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has accused Democratic leaders of punting a vote on a highly touted earmark moratorium, saying they refused to allow a vote on the proposal while presidential candidates were in the Senate chamber today. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, however, says DeMint has not even offered his amendment and has no right to ask for a vote at a specific time ahead of dozens of other Senate amendments.

At this rate, the high profile earmark moratorium vote might not occur until late tonight, long after the three presidential candidates have headed back to the campaign trail. The earmark vote is the main reason Sen. John McCain has been in the Senate chamber today, but he's headed to Pennsylvania this afternoon. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also signed on to the temporary earmark ban.

"This is so shameless. Supporters of the status quo are trying to hide in the dark of night," said Wes Denton, a spokesman for DeMint. "... This is the most talked about amendment of the week ... they [Democrats] are completely going against their word."

Reid's office says that DeMint is way out of line in trying to dictate when a vote should take place. After all, DeMint's party doesn't run the Senate any longer. Democratic aides say there are no rules that prevent DeMint from offering his amendment and that he was simply trying to extract a guarantee that a vote would occur while McCain was in the chamber.

"Senator DeMint has been talking about this amendment for three days," Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau. "If it’s so important to him, why didn’t he offer his amendment earlier in the week, as more than 20 Senators did? He could be voting on his amendment right now instead of issuing disingenuous press statements."

At the end of the day, this little spat may not matter if DeMint gets a positive vote on his earmark ban, even if McCain can't tout the vote on the presidential campaign trail. But the back and forth bickering has heightened the tensions in the Senate chamber, where a large group of reform-minded members are fighting with the old bull appropriators over whether to implement the earmark moratorium.