Sen. Johanns calls on Boehner to strip Nevada earmark from highway bill

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) is calling on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to strip out language from the Senate-passed highway bill that he says is an earmark for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D) home state of Nevada.

In a letter to Boehner, Johanns argues that language in Section 1516 of the transportation bill, S. 1813, would essentially direct $45 million in unobligated money from the 2005 transportation bill to Nevada. Johanns's office said the money would apparently be used to widen a road to the Las Vegas Airport.

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The bill, which the Senate approved on Wednesday, would allow Nevada to use that money for other transportation-related projects, but Johanns argued the money should either be returned to the federal highway fund or used for deficit reduction.

Johanns did not explicitly point out that this money would be given to Reid's home state, but said more generally that the language should still be considered an earmark.

"Including this provision is inconsistent with the de facto moratorium on earmarks in both chambers and it should therefore be removed," he said.

Johanns said it is "surprising" that the Obama administration did not point out the earmark as a reason to oppose the bill in its February Statement of Administration Policy on the bill. But while the administration does not see the language as a problem, Johanns said, Congress should not adopt the same position.

"If this earmark is allowed to remain in the highway bill, the original purpose of the earmark moratorium would be undermined and Congress will have broken the pledge we have to the American people that the practice of earmarking funds to specific states is on hiatus," Johanns wrote. "In addition, I am concerned Congress would be setting a dangerous new precedent by allowing earmarks in legislation as long as the provision is not new spending."

The House returns next week and is expected to use the Senate-passed bill as a starting point for passing a highway authorization bill. Current authorization for federal highway spending expires at the end of March, giving the House just two weeks to decide whether and how to amend the bill and work out a final agreement with the Senate.