WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday rejected a GOP bid to ban the practice of larding spending bills with earmarks — those pet projects that lawmakers love to send home to their states.
Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans combined to defeat the effort, which would have effectively forbidden the Senate from considering legislation containing earmarks like road and bridge projects, community development funding, grants to local police departments and special-interest tax breaks.
The 39-56 tally, however, was a better showing for earmark opponents, who lost a 29-68 vote earlier this year. Any votes next year should be closer because a band of anti-earmark Republicans is joining the Senate.
Nevada’s senators split on the issue. Republican Sen. John Ensign voted to prohibit earmarks, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, voted to reject the earmark ban.
Republicans bowed to Tea Party activists and passed a party resolution declaring GOP senators would give up earmarks. House Republicans have also given up the practice, but most Democrats say earmarks are a legitimate way to direct taxpayer money to constituents.
Seven Democrats voted with all but eight Republicans to ban the practice.
President Obama supports a ban on earmarks .
Opposition from Senate Republicans leaves Senate Democrats are the only faction of Congress in a position to try to save the practice of earmarking. But it’s difficult to see how House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would allow any earmark-laden bills to pass.
Estimates vary, but earmarks went from more than 1,300 projects worth nearly $8 billion in 1994 to a peak of nearly 14,000 projects worth more than $27 billion in 2005, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group that opposes the practice.
Ban sponsor Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said , “All we have to do is look at campaign contributions and earmarks, and there is a stinky little secret associated with that.”