Ear­mark ban fails in Se­nate but gains more ad­vo­cates

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Se­nate on Nov. 30 re­jected a mora­to­rium on ear­mark spend­ing, in a test vote that nonethe­less showed surg­ing sup­port for a ban and left foes of pork-bar­rel spend­ing pre­dict­ing that the end of the prac­tice is near.

Thirty-nine sen­a­tors sup­ported a three-year ban — 10 more than voted for a sim­i­lar mora­to­rium ear­lier this year. Op­po­nents will gain re­in­force­ments next year when they are joined by the win­ners of Novem­ber’s elec­tions.

“We made a pos­i­tive step. Some new help will come in. With a lit­tle Demo­cratic sup­port, we’re get­ting close to 50 on that,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Repub­li­can and a lead­ing critic of ear­mark spend­ing.

The de­feat of the ban shows how pop­u­lar the power of the purse re­mains among sen­a­tors, par­tic­u­larly Democrats. Of the 39 sen­a­tors who backed a mora­to­rium, just seven were Democrats. Mean­while, 56 sen­a­tors — eight Repub­li­cans, two in­de­pen­dents and 46 Democrats — voted to pre­serve ear­mark­ing pow­ers.

But more and more law­mak­ers who voted against pre­vi­ous bans have switched po­si­tions, ar­gu­ing that vot­ers are clearly de­mand­ing that Congress change its ways.

Sen. Mark Warner, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, said he con­cluded it’s time for an “ap­pro­pri­ate time­out” on ear­marks, while Sen. Bill Nel­son, Florida Demo­crat, said he thinks the econ­omy is too shaky to sup­port this kind of spend­ing.

“There’s no doubt these projects are worth­while. But it’s un­der­stand­able Congress would have wanted to cut fund­ing like this, given the back­drop of the econ­omy,” said Nel­son spokesman Dan McLaugh­lin.

Two other Democrats, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Ben­net of Colorado, also changed their stance and em­braced a ban.

Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, the third-rank­ing Repub­li­can in the cham­ber, voted against bans twice this year, but said he now sup­ports a short-term mora­to­rium, with built-in ex­cep­tions.

“A time­out will per­mit Congress to limit the num­ber of ear­marks and make sure they are wor­thy,” he said. “I will re­spect this mora­to­rium, al­though in ex­tra­or­di­nary cases I re­serve the right to ask Congress and the pres­i­dent to ap­prove mea­sures of ur­gent im­por­tance to Ten­nesseans, such as funds to help those hurt by the dev­as­tat­ing flood­ing last May.”

The vote, cou­pled with the stated po­si­tions of in­com­ing law­mak­ers, sug­gests that at least 42 sen­a­tors in 2011 would sup­port a mora­to­rium, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The Washington Times. Repub­li­cans will gain a net of six more seats in the next Se­nate, but Democrats will still hold a 53-47 ma­jor­ity.

But Mr. DeMint said it may not even take a GOP ma­jor­ity to halt ear­marks. House Repub­li­cans, who will con­trol the lower cham­ber be­gin­ning in Jan­uary, have voted to forgo ear­marks, and they could use con­trol of the House to re­ject any spend­ing bill that con­tains the tar­geted spend­ing projects.

The de­feat of the ban shows how pop­u­lar the power of the purse re­mains among sen­a­tors, par­tic­u­larly Democrats. Of the 39 sen­a­tors who backed a mora­to­rium, just seven were Democrats. Mean­while, 56 sen­a­tors — eight Repub­li­cans, two in­de­pen­dents and 46 Democrats — voted to preser ve ear­mark­ing pow­ers. But more and more law­mak­ers who voted against pre­vi­ous bans have switched po­si­tions, ar­gu­ing that vot­ers are clearly de­mand­ing that Congress change its ways.

The House GOP lead­er­ship has not pub­licly ad­dressed that op­tion.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans also have voted not to request ear­marks in the next Congress, and Steve El­lis, vice pres­i­dent at Tax­pay­ers for Com­mon Sense, which has pushed for a mora­to­rium, said the first test will be to see how well they hold ranks. Keep- ing in­di­vid­ual mem­bers from de­fy­ing the ban would put pres­sure on all sides.

Mr. El­lis also said Pres­i­dent Obama could have a ma­jor ef­fect on the fu­ture of ear­marks by say­ing he won’t ac­cept bills loaded up with spe­cial-in­ter­est projects.

But not all Repub­li­cans are on board with the anti-ear­mark cru­sade. Sen. James M. In­hofe, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, said Congress would have been ced­ing its con­sti­tu­tional author­ity to spend money if it adopted the mora­to­rium.

Ear­mark sup­port­ers say the amounts in ques­tion are a small frac­tion of the over­all bud­get, and that ban­ning ear­marks on Capi­tol Hill would only give bu- reau­crats in the ex­ec­u­tive branch more power to de­cide how tax­payer dol­lars are spent.

“The real prob­lem is not ear­marks,” he said. “The real prob­lem is that dur­ing that two-year pe­riod — when ev­ery­one is concerned about a few dol­lars — we found out we have in­creased the debt more than it has been in­creased in the his­tory of this coun­try, and we have given my 20 kids and grand­kids a $3 tril­lion deficit in just two years.”

He point­edly noted that the spon­sor of the amend­ment, Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, voted for the $700 bil­lion Wall Street bailout plan and the $50 bil­lion world AIDS re­lief bill — both of which Mr. In­hofe op­posed as bloated spend­ing.

Mr. Coburn said af­ter the vote that while ear­marks ac­count for a small per­cent­age of fed­eral spend­ing — less than half a per­cent in the last fis­cal year — they are a “gate­way drug” to more spend­ing.

“As ear­marks ex­ploded, so did the size of the fed­eral bud­get, which has dou­bled in the past decade,” Mr. Coburn said.

The is­sue has pro­duced some in­ter­est­ing pat­terns in the five votes held over the past four years.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, voted for a twoyear mora­to­rium ear­lier this year, but just two days later voted against a mora­to­rium that would have re­mained in place as long as the fed­eral govern­ment ran a deficit.

Sen. Jim Bun­ning, a fel­low Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, voted against bans up un­til Nov. 30. He is re­sign­ing at the end of this year and will be re­placed by Rand Paul, a Repub­li­can who has taken a stance against ear­marks.

Sen. Mark Kirk, a Repub­li­can seated on Nov. 29 af­ter win­ning a spe­cial elec­tion to fill Mr. Obama’s for­mer seat from Illi­nois, re­placed Sen. Roland W. Bur­ris, an ear­mark sup­porter. Mr. Bur­ris re­placed Mr. Obama, a for­mer ear­marker who came to op­pose the prac­tice dur­ing his fi­nal year in the Se­nate.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This is your brain on ear­marks: Sen. Tom Coburn said ear­marks ac­count for a small per­cent­age of the bud­get but called them a “gate­way drug” to more spend­ing.

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