Senate Rejects McCain Earmark Amendment to Omnibus
By Paul Kane
The Senate rejected in bipartisan fashion today a proposal by John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, that would have flattened government spending and gutted almost $7.7 billion worth of narrow spending projects inserted into catch-all funding legislation that will keep federal agencies running through September.
Receiving just 32 votes for his amendment, McCain was defeated as 54 members of the Senate Democratic caucus and nine Republicans opposed his proposal to leave funding at its current levels and strip the 9,000 congressionally designated projects commonly known as earmarks. Instead, the Senate remains on track to pass the $410 billion legislation, which cobbles together nine of the dozen annual spending bills that are leftover from last year's congressional agenda. The current short-term funding resolution expires Saturday, so Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is trying to get the omnibus legislation approved without any amendments, allowing it to go to the White House for President Obama's signature without having to send it back to the House, which approved the measure last week.
Obama, who campaigned on a pledge that he would roughly halve the number of earmarks in appropriation measures, has said he will sign the omnibus bill while indicating to Democratic leaders last week that he would like to see more reform and transparency in how these provisions are handled in the spending bills up for consideration later this year.
McCain ridiculed Obama for saying he would sign the legislation, arguing that the money would be better spent on more meaningful tasks at a time of national and international crisis. "So much -- so much -- for the promise of change," he said in a floor speech yesterday.
Critics contend that earmarks are wasteful and encourage corruption because many of them are sponsored by members of Congress who also receive contributions from the contractors who receive them and their lobbyists. Supporters, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), maintain that the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse to spend money and individual lawmakers are more keenly aware of the spending needs in their districts than bureaucrats in federal agencies.
At a weekly briefing for reporters today, Hoyer said any opposition from Obama to the $410 billion legislation based on the earmarks would have created "needless disagreement" with Congress and set up a showdown.
Despite their relatively small portion of the $1 trillion in discretionary funding for the federal government, earmarks have become a rallying cry for conservatives looking to shrink the size of the federal government and reform-minded Democrats, including Sens. Russell Feingold (Wis.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.), who supported the McCain measure today.
The overall total of earmarks in the omnibus under consideration this week is less than 2 percent of the legislation's entire cost. Full-year funding for the Pentagon, its military bases and the Department of Homeland Security was approved last fall. When earmarks from that legislation are included with this week's bill, the total value of the projects rises to more than $14 billion