Senate votes down ban on earmarks, 39-56

The Senate on Tuesday morning defeated a proposal from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to ban congressional earmarks.

In a 39-56 vote, members defeated a temporary ban on the appropriations procedure. The moratorium was offered as an amendment to a food-safety bill that is scheduled for a final vote Tuesday morning.

Senate Republicans have already passed a voluntary ban on earmarks in their caucus, but several GOP senators have objected to it. Democrats have so far declined to ban earmarks from their members.

The legislation would have established an earmark moratorium for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, and also would have covered the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Congress has yet to pass an appropriations bill for the current fiscal year, and in the lame-duck session lawmakers are likely to approve either an omnibus spending bill or a continuing resolution to keep the government operating.

In speeches on Monday, Coburn said the ban was the only way to rein in out-of-control spending. He did not speak on Tuesday morning, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who supports the ban, alluded to the issue in remarks about the current debate over tax cuts.

"Republicans have heard the voters loud and clear," McConnell said. "They want us to focus on preventing a tax hike on every taxpayer, on reining in Washington spending and on making it easier for employers to start hiring again."

But Democrats repeated the argument they laid out in floor speeches on Monday, asserting that the earmark process has already been made transparent.

"We have put in place the most dramatic reform of this appropriations process since I've served in Congress," said Majority Whip and Appropriations Committee member Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "There is full disclosure in my office of every single request for an appropriation. We then ask those who have made the requests to have a full disclaimer of their involvement in the appropriation, so it's there for the public record. This kind of transparency is virtually unprecedented."

Like other Democrats and some Republicans, Durbin said he would not abdicate any earmarking authority.

"I believe I have an important responsibility to the state of Illinois and the people I represent to direct federal dollars into projects critically important for our state and our future," Durbin said.

Eight GOP senators voted to preserve earmark spending, including Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Richard Shelby (Ala.). Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and defeated Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) also voted against it.

Two Democrats facing potentially tough reelection battles in 2012 also voted for the earmark moratorium: Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.)

Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) also voted for the earmark ban, as did Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Mark Udall (D).

Jordan Fabian contributed.

—This story was last updated at 12:02 p.m.