Passage of earmark ban in doubt

Senate proponents of a three-year moratorium on earmarks say they will not have enough votes to implement the reform measure when lawmakers consider the issue next week.
“We got a long road here,” said a Senate GOP aide who supports the measure. “We are 70 yards from the goal line, but I think momentum is on our side.”

Whatever the outcome, proponents argue it will be an important test vote to put lawmakers on the record regarding the issue and could set up a victory in the 112th Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidPelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Latinos build a wall between Trump and White House in new ad The true (and incredible) story of Hill staffers on the industry payroll MORE (D-Nev.) has set a high bar by negotiating an agreement with Senate Republican leaders that requires 67 votes for the earmark moratorium to win adoption. Republican leaders agreed to the high threshold, seeing it as the only way to get a vote on the proposal.
A senior Senate GOP aide said Democrats facing reelection in 2012 would face attacks if they voted against the moratorium.
“Any one of their members who is up in 2012 and doesn’t support this is going to have a lot of explaining to do," said the aide in reference to Democrats.
Only a few Democrats have committed to supporting the ban proposed by Sens. Tom CoburnTom CoburnRyan calls out GOP in anti-poverty fight The Trail 2016: Words matter Ex-Sen. Coburn: I won’t challenge Trump, I’ll vote for him MORE (R-Oka.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillMcCaskill offers Trump 'Mean Girls' advice Trump's taxes bump Miss Universe from headlines Dem on NYT report: Trump 'walks away with a golden ticket' MORE (D-Mo.), which will be voted on as an amendment to the food-safety bill.
Senate aides whipping the amendment say McCaskill and Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D-Colo.) are the only Democrats who have committed to back the measure. They also said retiring Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who both voted in 2008 for an earmark moratorium, are likely supporters.
Another possibility is Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, who voted two years ago for an amendment that would have established an earmark moratorium for fiscal year 2009.
The Senate Republican Conference decided last week to adopt a two-year ban on earmarks. But the proposal does not have any effect on Democrats and there is not a clear enforcement mechanism besides peer pressure.
The Coburn-McCaskill amendment would establish a 60-vote threshold for any bill or conference report that includes an earmark, limited tax benefit or limited tariff benefit.
Spending earmarks have attracted a lot of public attention but they account for a relatively small portion of budget compared to tax earmarks.
Lawmakers directed $15.9 billion in spending earmarks to their home states in 2010, but the co-chairmen of President Obama’s fiscal commission estimate there are $1.1 trillion worth of annual earmarks in tax legislation.

Senate proponents of the earmark moratorium are focusing on Democrats from conservative-leaning or centrist states who could face tough elections in 2012, such as Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterCourt ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal MORE (Mont.). A spokesman for Tester did not respond to a request for comment about where the senator stands on the ban.
Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperYahoo hack spurs push for legislation Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis MORE (D-Del.), who is up for reelection next cycle, has said he is willing to consider an earmark freeze to evaluate the process for funding local projects.
Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsDem blasts Trump on 'jail' line: 'That's what dictators do' Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis MORE (D-Del.), who was sworn into the upper chamber last week, said he hasn’t made up his mind on how to vote.

"I haven’t come to a final position on it, but in the campaign, what I said was that as long as other states’ members are fighting for and getting money for infrastructure needs, then I will support a transparent, fair, congressionally-directed earmark process,” Coons said in an interview.

“I do think Congress needs to have a hand in directing the federal budget, and eliminating earmarks would play no significant role in reducing the deficit,” he said. “It’s a widely held misunderstanding. It wouldn't save any money."
Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump questions hound endangered Republican Dems to McConnell: Pass 'clean' extension of Iran sanctions Convicted ex-coal boss says he’s a ‘political prisoner’ MORE (D-W.Va.), who took the oath of office last week to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D), one of the most prolific earmarkers in history, has offered only qualified support for earmarks.
“As a Democrat, I have always believed in transparency. I am not a big earmark person,” he told The Charleston Gazette. “We’ve got to get our financial house in order. You can’t continue this reckless spending.”
Manchin says earmarks should be restricted to funding transportation and infrastructure projects, including projects to build information technology networks.
Earmark proponents expect to lose a handful of Republicans on the vote, such as Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Momentum builds for Clyburn poverty plan 'Hardball' Pentagon memo creates firestorm MORE (Miss.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.
GOP Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiWriting in Mike Pence won’t do any good in these states GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide MORE, who won a tough reelection to her Alaska seat as a write-in candidate without national party support, has said she will oppose an earmark ban.

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) opposed the ban when Republicans debated it last week.
—J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report.