This vote was on an amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would have permanently banned Congressional earmarks.
Sen. Toomey’s amendment was aimed at ending a common practice in Congress. Members of Congress often work to secure funding for projects in their home districts, or alter legislation in a way that favors a small group. Critics of earmarking argue this practice helps create a culture of corruption in Washington, D.C., pointing to recent cases in which members of Congress were convicted of using their influence to funnel cash or legislative favors to friends and campaign donors.
If passed, Sen. Toomey’s amendment banning earmarks would have been made part of the STOCK Act, which outlaws insider trading by Congressional members and employees.
“Let me be clear: both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of wasting valuable taxpayer dollars on these pet projects,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. “If we want to show the American public that we are really serious about preventing corruption in Congress, then we owe it to the American people to completely ban all earmarks in Congress.”
Opponents of Sen. Toomey’s amendment argued that the Constitution gives Congress the “power of the purse.” That means members of Congress have a responsibility to direct government spending, they said.
“There is no authority more vital to the separation of powers than the one that prevents the executive branch from directly spending the tax dollars collected from its citizens,” Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) said. “Depriving the Congress of the ability to direct money to specific projects does not save money or reduce the deficit; it simply gives additional power to the president and weakens the legislative branch.”
Sen. Toomey’s amendment, which would have banned Congressional earmarks, was defeated by a vote of 40-59. Voting “yea” were 33 Republicans and 7 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 46 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 13 Republicans. As a result, the STOCK Act moved forward without a ban on earmarks.