Earmark Ban Fails in Senate

The Senate this morning defeated an attempt from Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to ban earmarks through fiscal 2013.

Coburn and McCaskill sought to attach the ban -- which would be binding, unlike the voluntary moratorium Republicans recently adopted in the House and Senate -- to a food safety bill currently pending in the Senate.

The ban fell on a procedural vote which required 67 senators to agree to suspend the chamber's rules and vote directly on the proposal. Only 39 senators voted to do so, including seven Democrats. Of the 56 members who dissented, eight were Republicans.

Before the vote, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that there is already an "unprecedented" amount of disclosure on earmark requests and he feels a duty to advocate for his home state, which includes obtaining earmarks.

"I believe I have an important responsibility to the people of Illinois," Durbin said.

Opponents of earmarks have argued that they tend to be wasteful and are a distraction to Congress, charged with making the big decisions on how to bring down the deficit.

In debate Monday night, Coburn said that "there is nothing in our oath that" requires that senators get earmarks. He added that earmarks are also problematic because they are used to ease the passage of other government spending, which helped balloon the deficit to $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2010.

Anti-earmarkers also contend that while earmarks only amount to about 1 percent of spending, they use up scarce resources that could go to programs that dole out federal funds based on merit rather than the seniority of a lawmaker.

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Humberto Sanchez is a staff writer (appropriations and budget issues) for National Journal.

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