Earmark Ban Goes Down to Defeat in the Senate

The Senate just voted down the Republican proposal to ban earmarks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was pressured to change his tune on earmarks but the ban still went down in defeat. Image: ##http://www.ipolitics.com/state/KY/653-kentucky_senator_mitch_mcconnell_calls_healthcare_bill_process_charade.htm##iPolitics##
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was pressured to change his tune on earmarks but the ban still went down in defeat. Image: ##http://www.ipolitics.com/state/KY/653-kentucky_senator_mitch_mcconnell_calls_healthcare_bill_process_charade.htm##iPolitics##

The proposed ban was met with profound ambivalence in the transportation community. Some, like Rob Sadowsky, Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, worried that a ban would remove a primary funding mechanism for bike-ped projects.

The day after the election, Sadowsky told BikePortland, “While earmark funding on surface appears to be a poor way of managing a democracy, our projects, particularly trail projects have historically done very well through earmarks.”

Meanwhile, other reformers say earmarks are wasteful because they’re not strategic. Rather than creating a national plan for targeted infrastructure projects that would link into a regional or national network, earmarks fund scattershot programs throughout the country. Those who call them “pork” say the primary strategy behind earmarks is to get members re-elected.

House Republicans have already given up earmarks, and pressure was high after the election to make it official. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was bullied into becoming a reluctant ban supporter.

The proposed ban needed a two-thirds majority to pass the Senate. It barely got one-third: the vote was 39 in favor to 56 against. Only seven Democrats voted for the ban, and only eight Republicans voted against it.

Some political observers noted the irony of Republicans pushing to remove a power lever from the legislative branch and handing it over to the executive branch. After all, if Congress doesn’t allocate the money, Obama-appointed agency officials will.

  • Earmarks as currently practiced are completely indefensible. I’ve got to believe that if the Democrats had banned them when in charge, it would have been hailed by liberals (and at least some non-partisan conservatives) as a sign of reform and that business as usual is over.

    I hope the House stands firm and refuses to sign onto any Senate earmarks.

    Regardless of whether these save money or transfer discretion to the executive branch, too many of the projects funded are patently horrible (the bridge to nowhere for example), earmarks are used as a bully tool and currency for votes that corrupts the legislative process, and Americans are sick of this garbage.

    A pox on both their houses, I say.

  • Really, this isn’t much of a surprise. The Senate isn’t going to ban a funding mechanism like this until a replacement is already in place.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Outside of the bridge to nowhere debacle..what other earmarks are bad? In LA, we’ve received a lot of good earmarks that have helped our transit needs. And, I’m sure nearly every city in the US, gets a ton of great earmarks. I want to make sure we keep this practice going. Even the Tea Party Michelle Bachman said “transportation earmarks are okay”. Inside, people don’t really want to see it go.

  • I’ll ask the question that EngineerScotty asked on TTP: has there been any comparison of the effectiveness earmark-funded transportation spending and regular transportation spending?

  • mcas

    @Aaron M. Renn: “too many of the projects funded are patently horrible (the bridge to nowhere for example),”

    Can you name others that are ‘patently horrible’ other than the one example everyone knows?

    There are thousands and thousands of these earmarks– yet those who oppose them can’t ever dredge up more than 2-3 ‘bad’ ones each year. Create policy, not hyperbole, please. Then, we can talk.

  • mcas

    Just to elaborate– I agree the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ is a bad project. And I’m opposed to bad projects, as well; but the answer isn’t ‘Let’s ban earmarks!’– it’s create stricter regulations and policies around what does/n’t get funded.

    It’s the epitome of the ‘bad apples’ metaphor. Don’t go cut down the orchard and swear off fruits just because you oppose a few stupid projects. …but remember — stupid projects get funded a million different ways — not just by ‘earmarks.’

  • bikermark

    Some earmarks are good for our cause. They are used as end-runs around state DOTs that aren’t supportive of bicycling. Without earmarks, in some states, that TE money would not be spoken for, and it would simply be returned to USDOT during annual rescissions.

    Apart from the Bridge to Nowhere, the abuse of earmarks is pretty well documented.

    Earmarks used as currency in the House:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Young#Coconut_Road

    You can see all the SAFETEA-LU earmarks here:
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/blueprintamerica/featured/disappearmarks/1059/

    There you’ll see words like: interchange, pave, and widen. You will also see some bike/ped projects, but their percentage of total earmarked dollars is small.

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