McCain loses bid to ditch earmarks

Both parties embrace projects in $410b budget

Associated Press / March 10, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Members of both parties voted yesterday to keep their cherished home-state projects as the Senate resumed debate on a spending bill covering foreign aid and domestic agency budgets.

By a 63-32 vote, lawmakers rejected a bid by Senator John McCain, last year's Republican presidential candidate from Arizona, to effectively strip about 8,000 of those earmarks from the $410 billion measure.

"If the president really wants to change Washington, as soon as this bill reaches his desk, he should veto it and send it back and say, 'clean it up,' " McCain said.

Instead, the White House said President Obama will sign the measure despite all the projects, and push for fewer earmarks in next year's budget. During last year's campaign, Obama promised to cut earmarks drastically and institute other changes.

Lawmakers in both parties defend the practice, and 10 Republicans joined most Democrats to defeat McCain's amendment.

"Yes, I fight for funds for my state. That's what I came here to do," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which doles out the earmarks. "Candidly, why be an appropriator if you can't help your state?"

But the Senate still faces a difficult vote on an amendment by Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, to scrap the current congressional pay system. It gives automatic cost-of-living pay raises to members of Congress unless they act to deny themselves a raise.

"At a time when so many Americans are losing their jobs and struggling to pay their mortgages, these raises just aren't right," Vitter said. "Most Americans don't have a formula at their job that gives them automatic pay raises, and Congress shouldn't either."

Lawmakers now make $174,000 a year, having received a $4,700 raise in January. Vitter's amendment would deny lawmakers the raise they are due next January.

Democratic leaders had hoped to pass the measure last week, but Republicans withheld the votes required to clear an important procedural hurdle and insisted on the right to offer additional amendments. Now, it's anticipated the measure will pass today.

Democrats stand poised to defeat all amendments because they don't want the measure to return to the House for a further vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has threatened to scrap the bill in that event.

The 1,132-page spending bill awards big increases to domestic programs and is stuffed with pet projects. The measure wraps together nine spending bills to pay for the annual operating budgets of every Cabinet department through Sept. 30, except for the departments of defense, homeland security, and veterans affairs.

The bill has 7,991 pet projects, totaling $5.5 billion, according to calculations by the GOP staff of the House Appropriations Committee.

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