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Coburn Targets PMA Earmarks

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Updated: 6:43 p.m.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to offer dozens of amendments to the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill to strip out earmarks that would benefit clients of the PMA Group, the lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI in November.

As the Senate on Monday took up the $410 billion bill covering spending for the rest of this fiscal year, Coburn went to the floor armed with a package of 39 amendments he intended to introduce, including amendments to strike 14 specific projects that would benefit PMA clients.

The projects include $950,000 requested by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) for a company called Alpha Micron for advanced window technology; a $950,000 earmark requested by Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) for a company called NuVant Systems to do research on methanol fuel cells; and several projects requested by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Ryan defended his earmarks in the bill. “If we’re serious about reducing our dependency on foreign oil, we must invest in the sort of technologies that Alpha Micron is currently working on,” Ryan said in a statement to Roll Call. “This is a worthy project that will produce massive energy conservation savings while creating jobs.”

Visclosky issued a statement last week saying he stood behind his earmarks, including NuVant. “Now is the time to build a new economy in Northwest Indiana, and making the region a place that fosters cutting edge research is a great way to do it,” Visclosky said. “This support for new technology and new ideas is a down payment on Northwest Indiana’s future.”

On the Senate floor, Coburn railed that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would not accept any changes to the bill. “We’re not supposed to offer amendments,” Coburn said. “We’re not supposed to take out things that are obviously quid pro quo in terms of earmarks and campaign contributions.”

Coburn spokesman John Hart said the Senator is trying to work out a deal with Reid that would allow him to bring some of the amendments to the floor for a vote.

Late Monday, Reid indicated that he would work out a way for Coburn to get a vote on his amendments. "A lot of thought has gone into [Coburn's] amendments and they're very difficult," Reid said on the floor late Monday. "I'd like to avoid them, but I don't see any reason how I can do that."

Coburn has rolled the list of amendments into two larger vehicles, one covering the PMA earmarks, the other targeting other earmarks he considers wasteful.

Coburn’s office assembled briefing materials that provide background on all of the projects that would benefit PMA clients, as well as the amount of federal money those clients have already received and the amount of campaign contributions PMA has made to the Members of Congress who sponsored each provision.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued that Congress should not approve a bill with earmarks for PMA clients as long as the firm remains under investigation. “How do we allow these to move forward when their principal sponsor is under investigation?” McCain asked. “You’d think maybe we could take that out.”

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