McCain, Feingold Launch Earmark Crusade

Posted January 7, 2009 at 2:50pm

Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday dusted off the reform mantle and formally launched their latest crusade: significantly curbing the use of earmarks in appropriations.

If anyone thought McCain, coming off a bruising loss to President-elect Barack Obama, has mellowed as a result of his multi-year presidential bid, he put those concerns to rest during a press conference unveiling the legislation.

McCain called the use of earmarks an “evil” and argued that it must be eliminated as quickly as possible given the collapsing economic conditions.

“It’s obvious at least some Members of Congress don’t know how serious the economic situation is,” McCain said. “It’s like any other evil. Either you eradicate the evil or over time it grows.”

The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), would make any unauthorized earmarks in appropriations bills subject to a 60-vote point of order, making it much easier for opponents to strip the language. The bill also includes a provision requiring that all conference reports to appropriations bills be made electronically searchable, and requires bills to be posted online 48 hours before they come before the full Senate.

“While we’ve made some progress in requiring disclosure of earmarks, stronger reforms are needed. Congress should recognize the widespread support of people across the political spectrum for reining in wasteful spending and enact the reforms necessary to ensure taxpayer dollars are well-spent,” Feingold said at the press conference.

The bill does not, however, include a provision long backed by Feingold that would give the president a quasi-line-item veto. Feingold’s proposal would allow the White House to zero out specific portions of appropriations bills but would give Congress the authority to undo those changes. There had been some discussion late last year of the possibility of Feingold’s line-item bill being included.