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To Earmark, or Not to Earmark

March 12, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(Updated below)

Tomorrow, every senator will go down or record for or against Jim DeMint’s (pictured) amendment to ban all earmarks from the fiscal year 2009 budget.

The vote will take place during what is known as a “vote-a-rama,” a day-long series of votes on budget amendments, with no debate and a pervasive 60-vote hurdle for passage. The vote on the earmark moratorium is going to be close — if you feel strongly in either way on this amendment, calling your senators could make the difference.

The Club For Growth, who strongly supports the earmark moratorium amendment, has posted a running tally of where senators stand on it. They’ve received some form of indication from about one-third of the Senate. Of that list, ten said they were still undecided. Sixty four have not said one way or the other — consider them persuadable.

Earmarks are pieces of the budget that have been requested by a specific legislator for a specific purpose, usually a politically-popular project in their district. As the number of earmarks exploded in the last several years, they have become
a symbol of government waste and corruption. This graph from the Congressional Research Service shows how earmarking increased dramatically between ’94 and 2005, with a dramatic turning point sometime around 2001. When Democrats took control of Congress last year, they were able to rein in earmarking somewhat. According to Congresspedia, “the 2007 spending bills contained about 25 percent fewer earmarks than the 2006 appropriations.”

For a good argument in favor of the earmark moratorium, see this press release from Jim DeMint. On the other hand, this article from the Politico contains several persuasive arguments against the moratorium from a bipartisan group of senators.


The Senate was able to outmaneuvere DeMint and avoid a vote on this amendment. SENATUS has the details:

>Senate Democrats were able to sustain a point of order, which was backed up by the Senate Parliamentarian, which stated that this earmark amendment was not “germane” under budget rules. A motion to waive this germane requirement was soundly defeated by a vote of 29 (Y) to 71 (N). Had that vote been allowed to pass, a new precedent would have been set which led the majority of Senators to oppose it. The point of order against the amendment meant that it had to be withdrawn.

Also of note on the earmark front, OMB Watch has just released a background brief (pdf) on earmarks and the federal earmarking process. If the debate surrounding this amendment has you confused, the OMB Watch brief is a great place to go for some solid answers. For example, did you know that they do not involve new federal spending and are “budget-neutral”?

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