Published March 10, 2009
Senate Democrats won over just enough Republicans to move forward Tuesday night on a controversial $410 billion spending bill by the end of the night Tuesday.
But it may come as no surprise that almost all of the Republican senators who voted for the bill have billions of dollars worth of earmarks in the package.
The earmark-mania is not unique to either party -- both Democrats and Republicans contributed to what Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates is 8,570 disclosed earmarks worth $7.7 billion in the bill that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year.
But the Republican crossovers in particular have a lot at stake in the package. Two of the three Republicans that made it onto Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "definite" list earlier Tuesday had authored 129 total earmarks worth $190 million, according to an updated list from Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., is actually the second-biggest earmarker, according to the list, with 64 earmarks worth $114 million. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is a few notches down, with 65 earmarks worth $76 million. Both voted for the bill. On the other hand, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, another Republican who voted for the bill, has zero earmarks.
Also voting for the bill were Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who has $86 million in earmarks; Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has $74 million; and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has $25 million. Shelby told FOX News Monday that he's vetted all his earmarks.
"I wouldn't want to be associated with an earmark on an appropriation that didn't have a lot of merit to it," he said, adding that the system has been abused by some lawmakers. "What we need to do is vet it more and more. I wouldn't want to give up our right to appropriate money," he said. "Otherwise, we cede it to the president, whoever that is. ... But on the other hand, any earmark you have, it ought to have merit, or we shouldn't do it."
Shelby's earmarks span the gamut, from $800,000 for oyster rehabilitation at the University of South Alabama, to $380,000 to the city of Tarrant, Ala., for streetscaping and walkways.
The top earmarker, by value, is a Democrat -- Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, with $123 million worth of earmarks. The senator with the most earmarks, regardless of their value, is Specter with 134.
Other Republicans, like Sen. John McCain, have tried unsuccessfully to strip the earmarks from the bill. Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin also broke off from their party out of opposition to spending measures like the earmarks.
"It looks as if Congress is just on autopilot, immune to the problems" of Americans, Bayh told a Sunday talk show.