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Bipartisan effort launched to end earmarks

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One year after the Senate rejected a moratorium on earmark spending, a bipartisan effort to permanently ban legislators from favoring pet projects is under way but faces an uncertain reception.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, and Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, are co-sponsoring a bill to eliminate earmarks, taking aim at a practice that affects less than 1 percent of the federal budget but has become a symbol of government waste and special-interest spending in recent years.

Along with banning all earmarks, the bill would make it harder for lawmakers to slip targeted spending items into bills by creating an extra barrier that would require a two-thirds majority to overturn.

The attempt to end earmarking permanently comes after both parties agreed on some temporary bans in 2010. Although the moratorium effort failed in the Senate, both Senate and House Republicans voted to adopt their own yearlong bans. And House Democrats banned their members from requesting earmarks for for-profit companies.

As the year draws to a close, it's time for a longer-term fix, Mrs. McCaskill said.

"I watch every day as people try to get around it," she said. "It's clear to me that there are many people around here that want to get back to business as usual in terms of the earmarking process. That's why this legislation is necessary."

But after the moratorium was defeated 56-39 in the Senate last year — with just seven Democrats voting for it — it's uncertain whether supporters of a permanent ban can muster enough votes for passage. While Republicans gained six seats in the Senate this year, Democrats retain a 53-47 majority.

And neither Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, nor Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, appears to be on board at this point.

"I would say no," said Mrs. McCaskill when asked if the party leaders had expressed support for the legislation. "Both of our leaders are former appropriators," she added.

Still, Mr. Toomey expressed optimism that freshmen senators will be more likely to oppose earmarks than were their predecessors.

"I think you can see there's probably quite a pickup in the number of votes," he said. "There's no question that there's much more appreciation for fiscal discipline now than probably there's ever been."

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