Senators Reject Earmark Ban

by Aaron Flint 11/30/10

Fox News is reporting on the breaking news this afternoon that the US Senate rejected a proposed ban on earmarks. 

As Politico’s Dave Catanese notes via Twitter:

2 Dems up in ’12 (McCaskill, Nelson) vote FOR earmark ban; 1 GOPer up in ’12 (Lugar) votes AGAINST it:

While we’re on the tweets….Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) had this:

Were you one of 82% who told the Tribune yes when they asked “Should earmarks be banned?” They didn’t hear you.

And, if you missed it, The Billings Gazette had this:

While the impact of earmarks on the overall federal budget may be small, the symbolism of earmarks is significant, said James Lopach, a political science professor at the University of Montana.

“Part of the message of the 2010 election was that politicians were using their positions for partisan benefit and to some degree for personal benefit, and they were incapable of listening or coming up with policies for the broader public interest,” he said.

“By their very nature, it’s ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,’” he said of earmarks.

Meanwhile, The Great Falls Tribune covers a Great Falls firm hoping to land an earmark of their own, highlighting an earmark request from Great Fall’s AgriTech through Sens. Baucus and Tester.

The end of earmarks could be devastating to AgriTech and could spur prospective firms to abandon the project, said Brett Doney, president and CEO of the Great Falls Development Authority, which is building the industrial park.

“It would be a significant blow to our efforts,” said Doney, who plans to meet with congressional staff in Washington, D.C., next week about the issue. “It could set us back at least a year.”


In the latest salvo over the earmark ban debate, Congressman Denny Rehberg’s (R-MT) spokesman Jed Link responded to Sen. Baucus letter with this:

“After 75 public meetings and numerous surveys, Denny knows what the
people of Montana expect from their elected officials.  It’s not more
of the same old Washington way of doing business.  And it’s certainly
not deficit spending on the empty promise of government-created jobs.
Montanans overwhelmingly supported Denny’s voluntary moratorium on
earmarks this last year.  And now even President Obama and Governor
Schweitzer are following Denny’s lead in criticizing earmarks.
Unfortunately for Montana taxpayers, it seems that Senators Baucus and
Tester still don’t get it.  They have thrown their saddles on a dead
horse.  It won’t matter how hard they dig their spurs and yell
giddy-up, because the wagon train is setting off in a new direction
and they’re going to get left behind.”

Separately, The Washington Post adds that Senate Republicans may have already violated the “No Earmark” pledge with this:

How do you define an earmark?

Only three days after GOP senators and senators-elect renounced earmarks, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, got himself a whopping $200 million to settle an Arizona Indian tribe’s water rights claim against the government.

But it meets the know-it-when-you-see-it test, critics say. Under Senate rules, an earmark is a spending item inserted “primarily at the request of a senator” that goes “to an entity, or (is) targeted to a specific state.”

Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., also got in on the bargain, adding measures benefiting their states to the black farmers-tribal royalty settlements. The two senators obtained almost $370 million for projects in their states to implement water settlements.


Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the Chairman of the US Senate Finance Committee, fired back at fellow delegation member- Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT)- with a defense of earmarks.  This, after Rehberg sent both Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) a letter urging both of them to support a ban on earmarks that passed the GOP-controlled House.

Baucus, with a 38% approval rating according to the latest poll, is arguing that an earmark ban would hurt Montana’s ability to garner federal funds for projects.  

As The Hill reports:

“The Montanans I talk to want us to support real solutions like infrastructure projects and tax cuts that will bring good-paying jobs to Montana,” Baucus wrote. “Not political stunts from party bosses in Washington.”

Baucus went on to say that the best way to reduce the deficit is “to help businesses create jobs and let working families keep more of their hard- earned money.”

Rehberg previously stated that an earmark ban would not hurt Montana’s ability to fund important projects, stating this in his letter last week:

We all know there are projects that are worthy of federal funding.  If, for example, a project has been debated, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President, it ought to be included in the budget and funded.  In those cases, which represent how the process should work, an earmark isn’t necessary.

“Senate Democrats may be the last 53 people in the country who haven’t noticed the old spending games won’t fly anymore,” said Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.  “Last year, I joined House Republicans in a voluntary earmark moratorium.  Now Democratic President Obama and Governor Schweitzer are hailing the foresight of this leadership and urging their Party allies to fall in line.  Earmarks are headed toward extinction.  It’s high time for Senate Democrats to heed the voice of the American voter.”

 On a lighter note- this morning’s “Politico Playbook” sends Happy Birthday greetings to Rehberg spokesman Jed Link:

BIRTHDAYS: Jed Link, communications director for Rep. Denny Rehberg, is 3-2 … Marlin Fitzwater … Dan Glickman.

Meanwhile, HuffPostHill wonders why Max Baucus isn’t back in Montana:


Note to Huffington Post’s Capitol Hill correspondent: you’re wondering why Max Baucus is still in DC for this Holiday weekend?  Let’s just say, noone in Montana is surprised he isn’t back here. 


Re: Baucus Letter to Rehberg Regarding Earmark Moratorium

(Washington, DC) – Montana’s Senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus sent the following letter to U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg today in response to Rehberg’s November 18, 2010 letter asking the Senator to support the Republican leadership’s moratorium on earmarks. 

Baucus’ letter to Rehberg is attached. Text of the letter follows below.

November 23, 2010

Representative Dennis Rehberg

2448 Rayburn HOB

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Rep. Rehberg,

Thank you for your letter and for your work on behalf of Montana.

Like you I am concerned about our mounting federal deficit.  And like you I have heard from Montanans who share this concern. 

Montanans know the best way to tackle the deficit is to get folks back to work and grow our economy.  The Montanans I talk to want us to support real solutions like infrastructure projects and tax cuts that will bring good-paying jobs to Montana – not political stunts from party bosses in Washington.

Montana depends on the federal dollars you have long supported.  As the Montana Legislative Branch’s calculations in the chart below show, federal funds amount to 43.5 percent of Montana’s general fund in 2010 – including much-needed highway dollars, education funding, and money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  In fact, Montana ranks 4th in the nation for most federal funding as a percentage of its total state budget, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers 2009. 

Furthermore, according to the Montana Legislative Fiscal Division, the more than $1.3 billion in Recovery Act funds that have gone to Montana provided a 12.6 percent boost to the total state budget for the 2011 biennium.   As a result, Montana has been able to balance the budget more easily than most states.


So-called earmarks have been responsible for vital projects to bring jobs, infrastructure and resources to Montana, including the following, which you sponsored or supported:

·         The Montana State University Animal BioScience Facility;

·         MT Secondary Highway 323 from Ekalaka to Alzada;

·         The Fort Peck-Dry Prairie Rural Water System; and

·         The Rocky Boy’s North Central Montana Regional Water System.

Our ability to bring money home for these projects is particularly important to a rural state like Montana, and giving up our ability to do so with the earmark moratorium will hand over even more power to President Obama and larger states like California and New York.  Relying on formulas and cost benefit analyses will favor a city subway system over the Ekalaka-Alzada Highway every time.  But as representatives of Montana, we know the true value of projects like this to the people of our state.  It’s our job to fight for them.

According to the House Republican Caucus’ new earmark policy,

an earmark is defined as:

“A provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator providing, authorizing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process.”

It is no doubt the principle of fighting for rural Montana you had in mind when you introduced four bills this Congress to provide funding for construction and upkeep of Montana water systems (H.R.845, Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2009*; H.R.3143, To amend the Fort Peck Reservation Rural Water System Act of 2000, to extend the authorization of appropriations for that Act.; H.R.4119, Dry-Redwater Regional Water Authority System Act of 2009; H.R.5592, Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act of 2010; *Later amended and reintroduced as H.R.3563, Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2009).

I commend you for your efforts to provide this vital support to areas of Montana that need it most.  But I worry that projects like these will be banned under the earmark moratorium you signed.  Indeed, a plain reading of the House Republican Caucus’ new earmark policy makes clear that authorizing spending for a specific entity is considered an earmark and therefore prohibited.  Each of the previously mentioned bills does just that.  Do you intend to abandon these bills next Congress, or have you received permission from the House of Representatives’ Republican leadership to use loopholes in the earmark moratorium and introduce these important Montana bills?

As you know, we worked hard to increase the transparency of earmarks with the reforms we fought to pass in 2007. Thanks to that bill, all earmarks are now public, including the name of the member of congress who sponsored them.  All Members of Congress requesting an earmark must also provide the Committee on Appropriations with the purpose of the earmark, the name or location of the recipient, and a certification that the Member of Congress himself will not benefit. 

As a result, Democrats have reduced the total number of earmarks and total dollar amount spent on earmarks dramatically from 2005 and 2006 levels.  The total number of earmark projects has reduced 35 percent from the record level in 2005, and the total funding for earmarks has reduced 43 percent from the record level in 2006, according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

 The only litmus test I use to evaluate legislation is: is it right for Montana?  For this reason, I cannot support Washington party leaders in their efforts to hamper critical Montana transportation, education and infrastructure projects. 

As you said once yourself, “Earmarks are not the problem. They direct money that already exists within the program to a particular area, because who knows their district more than we do? That’s our opportunity to make our argument to our colleagues. It doesn’t add to the budget.” (Great Falls Tribune, December 28, 2009)

An honest discussion about our mutual concern over the federal deficit must bear in mind that, as the New York Times recently reported (November 17, 2010), only 0.3 percent of the government’s budget comes from earmarks.

 The best way to reduce our national deficit is to help businesses create jobs and let working families keep more of their hard- earned money.   That’s why I fought so hard to pass the Small Business Jobs Bill that was signed into law earlier this year, and that is why I am fighting hard to extend tax cuts for middle-class families.

I urge you to join me in this effort to avoid the distractions of political stunts and find real solutions to bring good-paying jobs to Montana and get our economy moving again.


 Max Baucus

Noticably absent from the list of Dems up in ’12 who voted FOR the earmark ban:  Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who campaigned against the use of earmarks in his 2006 race, saying, “I’m opposed to earmarks, period.”

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