Yesterday, an earmark reform amendment to the stimulus bill introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold was defeated 32-65. The amendment was largely opposed by the majority Democrats and members of the Appropriations Committee.
Senate Appropriations Chair Daniel Inouye, in opposition to the amendment, stated that it represented a shift in power to the executive branch by requiring congressional approved, but not authorized, projects to be subject to supermajority votes.
“This amendment is an attempt to undermine Congress’s power of the purse,” Inouye said, “Under this amendment, congressionally directed spending items that are not specifically authorized could be stripped from legislation.”
Inouye also expressed his belief that the Senate enacted tough earmark transparency rules in the last Congress, despite objections from many observers in the Senate and outside.
Sen. Feingold responded by noting that only those directed spending items that were defined as “earmarks” in the Senate Rules could be subject to the amendment’s point of order rules, “few if any of the programs under those measures would be considered ‘congressionally directed spending,’ and thus they could be funded without this point of order applying. … in order to be subject to our point of order, the program must be an earmark; that is, ‘congressionally directed spending’ as defined in Senate rules, and it must not be authorized or included in the President’s budget request.”
While the vote fell mostly along party lines, Appropriations Committee members of both parties largely voted against the amendment. All Democrats on the committee and all but three Republicans voted against the amendment. Sens. George Voinovich and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for the Feingold amendment, while Sen. Judd Gregg, who has recused himself from voting while under consideration to be Commerce Secretary, did not vote.