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Senators vote to ban earmarks - then grab them

Senators vote to ban earmarks - then grab them

December 17th, 2010 in News

WASHINGTON (AP) - More than two dozen senators, most Republicans, who recently voted to ban homestate projects are claiming hundreds of earmarks in an almost $1.3 trillion bill to fund most federal programs and agencies into next fall.

Republicans are calling the 1,924-page bill a pork-filled mess and accusing Democrats of trying to jam it through Congress with minimal debate and little if any opportunity to make changes. Some GOP senators voiced outrage but made no effort to dump their own earmarks from the legislation, which has been in the works for months.

The earmark-free approach promised by 39 Republicans and Democrats was adopted well after work got under way on the bill that's coming to the Senate floor Thursday and has been endorsed by President Barack Obama. But with just a few exceptions, senators have not paired their opposition with requests to strip their earmarks from the bill.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for example, said he's unalterably opposed to the bill, but it still has $85 million of his earmarks, including $18 million for a railhead upgrade at Fort Knox and a $3 million infantry squad battle course at Fort Campbell. All told, McConnell obtained 38 earmarks, according to a database put together by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

The bill and accompanying reports contain 6,714 earmarks costing $8.3 billion, Coburn says. Twenty-three Republicans and four Democrats who voted for the immediate ban on earmarks claimed them in the bill.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, assaulted the bill - but in turn came under attack from reporters questioning why they have earmarks in the measure.

Thune backed 17 earmarks for $23 million, including $500,000 for a terminal expansion at the Rapid City airport and $1 million for improvements to state route 73 in Jackson County.

"I support those projects, but I don't support this bill," Thune said.

Cornyn obtained numerous earmarks as well, including $110,000 for the Texas State Technical College and $500,000 for a wastewater plant in Edinburg, Texas.

"I'm going to vote against this bill and refuse all those earmarks," Cornyn said. So long as they remain in the bill, however, Cornyn's earmarks are going ahead. His requests were made in the spring.

Critics pounced on what they deemed double-talk.

"Many of the same senators who are criticizing ... earmarks have earmarks in the bill," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who obtained $89 million worth of them. "That is the height of hypocrisy - to stand up and request an earmark and then fold your arms and piously announce, "I'm against earmarks."'

Such criticism, however, also could be directed at Colorado Democrats Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, who voted for the earmark ban two weeks ago. The Senate bill includes a $700,000 earmark sought by Bennet for a new water line for Trinidad, Colo., and $500,000 for a wastewater project in Idaho Springs, Colo., requested by Udall.