One-year freeze on earmarks fails in Senate, splits GOP

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 16, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated a bid to freeze spending earmarks for a year.

Lawmakers voted 68-29 against an amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to impose a one-year moratorium on earmarks. Twenty-four fellow Republicans voted for DeMint's measure, while 15 GOP senators voted against it.

The vote came six days after House Democratic leaders banned earmarks to defense contractors and other private companies, limiting them to state or local governments and nonprofit groups.

DeMint and fellow conservative Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., engaged in a brief but fierce debate on the Senate floor before the vote.

Inhofe, otherwise a close ally of DeMint, said prohibiting lawmakers from directing money to their states would give more power to President Barack Obama and the executive agency heads he appoints.

"All you end up doing if you're successful is giving all this to Obama," Inhofe said.

DeMint retorted that Congress can use its oversight power to restrain executive spending.

"Folks, we have every power here by the way we appropriate to disallow the use of funds for certain things," DeMint said.

Four Democrats voted with DeMint to ban earmarks for a year: Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Ted Kaufman of Delaware.

Before the vote, DeMint delivered a nearly 10-minute scold of his colleagues.

"The trust in our government is at an all-time low, and the earmarks that we send across the country are mostly with borrowed money," he said. "With all of our debt, the corruption, the waste, every American has a right to question what we're doing right now."

DeMint lambasted the economic-stimulus bill that Congress passed in February 2009, now projected to cost $862 billion, as "a candy store of earmarks," and he bitterly criticized special deals given to Louisiana and Nebraska in December to secure Senate passage of health care legislation.

"Americans now know that we buy votes with earmarks," DeMint said. "Isn't it time we just take a timeout for one year and see if we can reform the system?"

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