From NBC's Kelly O'Donnell
Dismissing President Barack Obama's opposition to earmarks as "an applause line," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told NBC News on Wednesday that the president should "back off" and let lawmakers continue to direct spending to their home districts.
Asked during a one-on-one interview with NBC whether Obama was wrong to promise a veto on any bill that contains earmarks, Reid quickly replied, "of course."
"This is an applause line," Reid said. "It's an effort by the White House to get more power. They've got enough power as it is."
Reid, along with other lawmakers who support earmarking, argues that eliminating the practice simply puts more discretion in the hands of executive branch officials who have authority to fund projects. "I have a Constitutional obligation to do congressionally directed spending," he said. "I know much more about what should be done in Elko [or] Las Vegas, Nevada, than some bureaucrat does back here."
Reid said voters should recognize that eliminating congressional earmarks does not, in itself, reduce spending but changes how the same money is spent.
"I think it's absolutely wrong and the public should understand that the president has enough power; he should back off and let us do what we do."
Suggesting almost dismissively that the president is playing to the crowd, he added that Obama may win "in the short term" with conservatives and those in the public who think that the practice should be nixed.
"The president thinks this will help him a little bit. You know, more power to him," he said. "But it's just wrong."
Despite this strong disagreement, Reid says the fight over earmarks will not cause a long-term rift with Obama.
"He's been around awhile. I've been around a while," he noted. "Just because he's wrong on this, [it] doesn't mean he's not right on almost everything else."