Money from transportation earmarks that have been on the books for more than 10 years and have disbursed less than 10 percent of the allocation would be returned to the Treasury under an amendment to FAA reauthorization legislation approved Thursday by the Senate, 87-11.
The proposal would require the Office of Management and Budget to determine how many similar earmarks exist across all federal agencies.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said his amendment “would save $626 million in the first year and more down the road as many unused earmarks hit the 10-year milestone. These unused and often unwanted earmarks do nothing to create jobs or fix roads.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., opposed the amendment, saying it takes about 13 years to build a highway due to environmental and other regulations. “The Feingold amendment does not reduce the deficit one penny,” Inhofe said.
The Senate rejected three other amendments, including one that would have imposed a virtual ban on earmarks for fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011 by requiring a two-thirds vote on a point of order for any bill that included earmarks in those years.
That amendment was sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who argued, “We cannot continue to come here every day and talk about our unsustainable debt and then say, ‘I need $1 million for my museum or my local sewer plant,’ when in fact this is borrowed money.”
DeMint contended that agreeing to a moratorium could pay political dividends for Republicans in the November elections as the public grows increasingly disaffected with government. He pointed to the Tea Party movement, a group of mostly conservatives opposed to increased government spending and debt. “We have a culture of spending here and Republicans have to step up and stop it,” DeMint said.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, opposed DeMint’s amendment, arguing that it would cede spending decisions to the White House and federal agencies.
The amendment “won’t save a penny from the deficit,” Inouye said. But “it will allow unelected bureaucrats, who have no accountability to voters, to determine how federal tax dollars are expended instead of the Congress.”
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