- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Taking its first baby steps to rein in pork-barrel spending, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to rescind old transportation earmarks, though lawmakers also resoundingly defeated a more ambitious effort to ban all earmarks through 2011.

Voting 87-11, senators approved giving back money for transportation earmarks that have been on the books for 10 years and for which less than 10 percent of the obligated money has been spent.

But minutes earlier, the Senate voted against imposing a ban for 2010 and 2011 on all earmarks, with supporters getting just 29 votes in favor — exactly the same level of support they got two years ago. The overall vote to kill the proposal was 68-29.

Earmarks, the targeted funds lawmakers insert into bills to direct money to projects back home, account for less than 1 percent of spending, but have become a symbol of Washington excess.

Last week, House Republicans imposed a one-year moratorium on themselves against offering earmarks. A majority of Senate Republicans voted for Tuesday’s ban, but it’s not clear they’ll want to match the House GOP pledge if Democrats aren’t willing to follow suit.

Sen. Jim DeMint, who proposed the failed two-year ban, said it would have marked a “time-out” to reform the system.

“It’s time to admit that what we’re doing is not working,” the South Carolina Republican said.

But the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee said the ban would not save money, and turns over decision-making to unelected bureaucrats in the administration.

“I’m not willing to cede every spending decision to the executive branch,” said Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican.

The transportation earmarks amendment that did pass would save $626 million in the first year, said Sen. Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who sponsored the amendment.

The votes came as part of the debate on a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill.

In a separate 55-42 vote, the Senate turned down an effort to continue the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides low-income parents up to $7,500 per student per year to send their children to qualifying private schools.

Backers said the program has proven popular and gives parents choices. But opponents said it hasn’t raised the scores of the most disadvantaged students, and should be allowed to expire.

On the earmark ban, several senators flipped their positions from the 2008 vote.

Those who opposed it before but supported it this week include Republican Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and David Vitter of Louisiana. Those who supported it last time but opposed it Tuesday include Sens. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican; James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican; and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

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