This vote was on an amendment by John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have prohibited funds in the underlying bill from being used for any project that had not been previously authorized by Congress. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds energy and water projects for fiscal 2010.
McCain said his amendment would have the effect of defunding every member’s pet project (commonly called “earmarks”) in the underlying bill.
“It would prohibit those funds from being spent on any of the hundreds of earmarks unless that project is specifically authorized,” McCain said. “Here we are again, with a committee report that contains 622 ‘congressionally directed spending items’—that is a great name: congressionally directed spending items—totaling over $985 million. None of these projects were requested by the administration. Many of them were not authorized or competitively bid in any way. No hearing was held to judge whether these were national priorities worthy of scarce taxpayer dollars, and they are in the bill for one reason and one reason only: because of the self-serving prerogatives of a few select Members of the Senate, almost all of whom serve on the Appropriations Committee. Sadly, these Members chose to serve their own interests over those of the American taxpayer.”
Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the constitution provides Congress with the power to decide how to spend money, and added that while some earmarking practices have been troubling, Congress has taken steps to overhaul the process to provide more transparency.
“If you look back in history you will see there are a good many examples of projects that started out as legislative-directed spending, or funding, that have had major national implications. In 1873, Congress appropriated funds for the Indian police to keep order and prohibit illegal liquor traffic on Indian reservations. That was through a congressional add-on or earmark. Only later, then, were Indian tribal police forces and court systems authorized and included in the President’s budget. But it was Congress that initiated the law enforcement approach that appropriated funds for Indian police,” Dorgan said.
By a vote of 25-72, the amendment was rejected. Of Republicans present, 22 voted for the amendment and 18 voted against it. All but three Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the measure went forward without language that would have barred programs in the bill from receiving funding if they had not been authorized.