Drama in Senate over Earmark Reform


Update: TPM Muckraker has details on the face-saving. Reid has bowed to accept the earmark reform. 

The Senate Democrats fought yesterday to hold their slim majority together to fight earmark reforms proposed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) attempted to kill the DeMint amendment (SA 11), which sought to adopt the same earmark reforms the House adopted last week. When Reid pushed a motion to table the amendment ten Democrats voted against their Leader to not table the bill. The whole episode has become a major embarrassment for Reid and it is now rumored that Reid is making a compromise with DeMint to save face.

Reid’s embarrassment may have been planned by DeMint and the Republicans as Robert Novak noted a few days ago:

Senators Coburn and DeMint plan to introduce an amendment to the Senate lobby reform package that focuses less on the behavior of lobbyists than the behavior of senators. Namely, it would forbid senators from requesting earmarks that may financially benefit themselves or immediate family members of themselves or their staffers. The idea is to mirror laws that prevent executive branch employees from benefiting personally from their work in the government.

Coburn complains of projects he claims were funded because of the assistance of family-member lobbyists. This is something Congress will be especially loath to touch. The provision is a back-handed slap at Reid, who was accused last year of benefiting from an earmark that will increase the value of land he owns in Arizona, and four of whose sons are paid lobbyists.

Emphasis mine. Reid had justified his opposition to the amendment on upholding the bipartisan earmark reform agreed to in S. 1 by Reid and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell, however, must have agreed to uphold that bipartisan rule as he voted with DeMint and his fellow Republicans against Reid and for the earmark reform.

We’ll have to wait for the compromise to be revealed as the Senate is on hold from debating the bill until this issue is settled. For now I’ll list the Democrats who voted against tabling and the Republicans who voted to table:

Dems voting ‘No’: Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa, John Kerry (D-Mass.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Bill Nelson (D-Fl.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Jim Webb (D-Va.)

GOP voting ‘Yes’: Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman also voted against tabling the amendment.

More when the Senators come back to the floor.