Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alaska Senators Mark Begich And Lisa Murkowski Vote To Reject Proposed U.S. Senate Ban On Earmarks, Cite Continuing Need And Support Of Earmarks By Alaskans

As they previously pledged to do, Alaska U.S. Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski joined 54 others in voting to reject a proposed ban on the use of earmarks by the U.S. Senate. Appended as S.Amdt. 4697 to S. 510 (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act), 39 senators voted Yes, 56 voted No, and five abstained. On the other hand, the 39-56 tally was a better showing for earmark opponents, who lost a 29-68 vote earlier this year; any votes next year should be closer because of a band of more conservative Republicans joining the Senate. Estimates vary, but earmarks went from more than 1,300 projects worth nearly $8 billion in 1994 to a peak of nearly 14,000 projects worth more than $27 billion in 2005, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

View the complete roll call vote HERE.

The seven Democrats who voted for the ban included Evan Bayh (IN), Michael Bennet (CO), lame duck Russ Feingold (WI), Bill Nelson (FL), Mark Warner (VA), Mark Udall (CO) and, most notably Claire McCaskill (MO). Nelson and McCaskill are both up for re-election in 2012 and are likely to face tough contests. McCaskill is also pushing a bill that would restrict corporate welfare for Alaska Native corporations. She wants to remove the loopholes that allow Native corporations to circumvent the normal rules of the federal government’s 8(a) program. While most 8(a) participants have to meet strict requirements to qualify for the program, ANCs are exempt from the normal rules. Additionally, they are allowed to receive contracts of any size without competition, while other companies in the 8(a) program are limited to small contracts. A copy of her legislation is available HERE.

Both Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski previously stated they would oppose any ban on earmarks. Their premise is that Alaska is still a young and developing state, and that eliminating earmarks would not appreciably reduce overall spending. In his press release, Begich cites the number of earmark requests his office receives each year from Alaskans is evidence of the continuing need and support for federal investment in the state; for the FY2011 appropriations cycle, Begich’s office received nearly $5 billion in requests from Alaskans for almost 500 projects. Lisa Murkowski, bought and paid for by the Native corporations, rode the earmark train to apparent victory over Joe Miller, although Miller is still contesting the outcome of the election.

Earmarks as a concept is proving to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, earmarking does NOT increase spending; it's strictly an allocation issue. But on the other hand, as long as earmarking is permitted, what incentive do lawmakers have to significantly reduce spending. A lawmaker whose constituents are predominantly yuppies and who has a major museum in his district might be reluctant not to earmark funds for the museum out of fear of not being re-elected. Therein lies the dilemma.

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