U.S. senators last year promised they wouldn’t pass any bill with earmarks during the 112th Congress. President Obama even said he would veto legislation that contained pork-barrel projects.
But with the Senate set to debate a transportation bill next week, one lawmakers is crying foul.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) uncovered what he says is a $45 million earmark for the state of Nevada. It appears on page 463 of the bill and rescinds unspent funds from a project in Nevada and directs that money to the state for another use.
The money was originally earmarked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for a levitating train from Las Vegas to Disneyland. But after that project was scrapped, Nevada’s Department of Transportation now wants to spend the money to widen a road to the Las Vegas airport.
A spokeswoman for Reid disputes Johanns’ claim that the language in the transportation bill constitutes an earmark.
“There is no new spending in this provision,” Kristen Orthman, a Reid spokeswoman, told the Las Vegas Sun. She argued the bill’s language “provides Nevada with additional flexibility and supports more than 1,500 jobs in a state that has the highest unemployment rate in the country.”
Not so fast, argues Johanns. He has introduced an amendment stripping the language from the bill. He hopes it is considered next week when the Senate takes up the transportation measure.
“It’s a matter of trust,” Johanns said. “The President said he would not sign any legislation containing an earmark, and Congress has promised the American people a highway bill without earmarks. I won’t break that promise.”
The two-year earmark moratorium was the result of widespread public outcry over pork-barrel projects emanating from Washington.
Senate Rule 44 defines an earmark as, “a provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Senator providing, authorizing, or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process.”
Earlier this month, Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) brought a measure to the floor that would permanently ban earmarks. It failed, 40-59.