Earmark transparency bill gets bipartisan support in Senate committee vote

The vote was 11 to 5, with all Republicans on the panel and a handful of Democrats backing the measure. Only Democrats opposed it.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and is co-sponsored by 27 other senators.

“Taxpayer dollars do not belong to earmark lobbyists, committees or politicians but to the American people, and the American people have a right to know how Congress might spend their money,” Coburn said in a statement.

Earmarks are provisions that lawmakers insert in spending bills to steer federal dollars to specific programs. Lawmakers’ earmark requests — filed as spending bills are crafted — can be accessed only by going to the individual website of each lawmaker. The bill moving through the Senate would create one database that would make it easy for someone to find how many earmarks each member of Congress has requested, how much they would cost and what project they would fund.

Critics of earmarks, such as Coburn and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), view the practice as a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars.

President Obama has backed an online earmark database, calling for one in his State of the Union speech in January.

An opponent of Coburn’s bill, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), had raised concerns over how the database would be managed. The legislation calls for the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate to oversee the database. Two appropriators, Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) also voted against the measure Wednesday. Members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees tend to be proficient earmarkers because of their control over spending bills.

It’s unclear when the bill will hit the Senate floor.