This vote was on a motion to table (or kill) an amendment by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would reduce the amount of funding for members’ pet projects (often called “earmarks”) in the underlying bill by $1.7 million and redirect that money to investigating and prosecuting unsolved civil rights crimes. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds federal science programs such as NASA, as well as the departments of Commerce and Justice, in fiscal 2008.
Coburn, a fiscal conservative who frequently targets earmarked projects, said the money would be redirected to a Justice Department program tasked with investigating and prosecuting unsolved civil rights cases. He said in a year and a half of the program’s existence, it has gotten 100 referrals from 42 different federal offices on cases that are at least 50 years old.
“The point of this amendment is let’s put dollars where they ought to go and let’s stop spending money on lower priorities. It is about priorities. It is not about what is a good program and what is a bad program. It is about what is the greatest priority,” Coburn said. “The greatest priority is to ensure people of their civil rights. It has to be greater than these. There cannot be a greater priority than securing the future for the next generations, except we are not going to do that with this bill.”
Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who helped write the bill, defended the earmarks in the measure, saying they were all screened as proper uses of federal dollars.
“I want my colleagues to know that we were not cavalier and said: Just give us any request and we will fund it. We screened them. We scrutinized them. They had to be mission and merit and have matching funds. We believe we have met this criteria. That is on the earmark reform,” Mikulski said. “On the issue of civil rights, I salute, again, our colleague from Oklahoma on the issue of wanting to investigate these cold cases but assure him that throughout our bill, we have a vigorous civil rights enforcement.”
Richard Shelby, R-Ala., then moved to table (or kill) Coburn’s amendment.
By a vote of 61-31, the Senate agreed to table the amendment. All but two Democrats present voted to kill the amendment (Evan Bayh of Indiana and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin). Of Republicans present, 16 voted to kill the amendment and 29 voted to retain it. Thus, the amendment was killed, and the measure went forward without language that would have redirected $1.7 million from earmarks into civil rights investigations.