The Senate will next week vote on a binding, three-year earmark moratorium, but in order to offer the ban the Senate must first vote to suspend its rules, which will require 67 votes to pass -- a difficult hurdle to clear.
The ban is sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who are seeking to attach it to food safety legislation the Senate is currently considering.
Under an agreement between Senate leaders, the Senate is set to vote on cloture for the food safety bill Monday evening. If the Senate votes to limit debate, there will be up to four hours of debate on the earmark ban and a dueling food safety proposal offered by Coburn. That will be preceded by up to one hour of debate on competing amendments to repeal the healthcare reform law's 1099 tax reporting requirement for business purchases of more than $600 a year.
After the debate, the Senate will vote on the four proposals. If any motions to suspend the rules are successful, such as the earmark ban, the Senate would move to vote on those proposals. The Senate would then vote on final passage of the food safety bill.
Coburn and McCaskill are trying to build on the increasing momentum against earmarks, sparked by the Tea Party and a political climate that reviles Washington spending and the large budget deficit.
Possible action on the ban comes after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a long-time supporter of earmarks, last week reversed his position and supported a GOP caucus-wide voluntary two year ban.
McConnell's move also came as House Republicans voted to extend their current earmark caucus-wide moratorium through the next Congress.
While earmarks account for only about one percent of spending, Republicans, and some Democrats, have argued that banning earmarks would help send a signal that Congress is serious about reducing spending and cutting the deficit.
"The greatest national security threat facing our nation today is our national debt and a Congress that refuses to acknowledge the depth of our challenges," Coburn said last week. "Earmarks are not only wasteful but are terrible distraction for both parties. The sooner we get rid of earmarks the sooner we can go to work on the difficult task of getting our budget under control,"
McCaskill has been leading the charge against earmarks on the Democratic side and she believes more members on her side if the aisle will eventually come around to oppose the practice.
"It's encouraging to see so many new faces join this effort over the last few days and I am excited to work with them in finally ending the flawed practice of earmarks," McCaskill said. "The truth is that earmarks are simply not a good way to spend tax dollars - I believe that funding should always be based on merit, not politics."
But while there has been growing opposition to earmarks, there is also staunch support, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen.-elect Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
The Senate in March voted 68 to 29 to kill an earmark ban for 2010 and 2011 proposed by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Of the 29 who backed the proposal only four were Democrats. Fifteen Republicans voted to kill the ban, but some of those members have come in favor of a ban.
Backers of the ban said the 67 vote threshold may effectively kill it.
"Fifty is possible but 67 is difficult," Coburn spokesman John Hart. "Reid doesn't want to end earmarks."
Dan Friedman contributed to this report.