Democrat says Senate leaders don’t want vote on earmark ban

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told reporters Wednesday that she does not think Senate leaders from either party want to bring her permanent earmark ban up for a vote.

McCaskill and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) teamed up to introduce the earmark ban Wednesday. Asked whether Senate leaders support bringing it to the floor, she replied: I would say no.

“Both of our leaders are former appropriators,” McCaskill said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Appropriators have considerable power over how federal money is spent and controlled the earmarking process in past Congresses.

She repeatedly referred to earmarking as “stealing” and “robbing” and said one of her proudest moments in Congress was when she attempted to strip an earmark from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) out of a 2008 farm bill.

McCaskill is in a tough reelection fight in a state where association with Pelosi and Reid could prove political liabilities.

Toomey adopted a more measured tone, saying he had not yet talked to McConnell about the bill.

McCaskill said it would be difficult to get the ban enacted. A two-year moratorium on earmarks failed to pass last year, and Congress has been operating under an unofficial, loophole-ridden ban this year.

But she and Toomey said their ban has a shot because the public is more focused on the out-of-control U.S. debt now.

“I think to vote against a moratorium on earmarking right now would be a very dangerous vote,” McCaskill said. “It would be an ‘I don’t get it vote. You know, one of those votes that tells the American people Congress is really out of touch.

“I think this would be the whipped cream and cherry on top of the dysfunction sundae.”

Toomey said new members in the Senate are more likely to vote for the ban than those who were in office in 2010.

The Toomey-McCaskill bill creates a point of order in the Senate against earmarks and allows any senator to raise an objection on the floor to a bill that contains earmarks. Sixty-seven votes would be needed to override the objection.

The senators said the legislation is needed to close loopholes in the informal moratorium. McCaskill said hundreds of quasi-earmarks were stuffed into the Defense Department authorization bill by the House Armed Services Committee this year, and her office will release a report soon detailing how a “slush fund” in the bill operates to dole out money to pet projects.

Toomey said the bill will prevent such activities by allowing any senator to raise a point of order on the floor rather than leaving it up to party leaders to define what an earmark is.