Eight Republican senators on Tuesday voted to preserve earmark spending despite pressure from the Tea Party movement.
Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) voted against an amendment to food-safety legislation that would have enacted a two-year ban on the spending items. Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and defeated Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) also voted against it.
Senate Republicans had already passed a voluntary earmark ban, but Tuesday's vote shows that the conference is still divided over the issue. The overall Senate proposal failed 39-56.
Even though earmarks represent a small portion of overall discretionary spending, Tea Party activists have pressured lawmakers to outlaw the practice, saying it is a good way to start reining in high spending.
Of the senators who voted against it, only Lugar faces reelection in 2012. Most observers anticipate that the veteran senator will receive a conservative primary challenger. Four other GOP senators in danger of facing a serious primary challenge — Bob Corker (Miss.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — all voted in favor of banning earmarks.
Snowe vote against a similar proposal in March.
Bennett was forced out of power by a Tea Party-backed challenger. He lost his bid to be re-nominated at the Utah GOP convention in May.
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) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)