Senators Brace for Earmarks Showdown

by Andrew Stiles

The Senate resumed consideration today of the Food Safety Modernization Act. A cloture vote is expected this evening, after which senators will consider a number of amendments, including one introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), John McCain (R., Ariz.) Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), and Mark Udall (D., Colo.) that would impose a binding three-year moratorium on pork-spending.

The amendment’s backers have their work cut out for them. They need 67 votes simply to force an up-or-down vote, going by Senate rules. That’s a tall order. As I wrote last week, Harry Reid and Senate Democrats are reluctant to follow the GOP’s lead and support a ban on earmarks. And it’s not as if Senate Republicans were unanimously thrilled about it, either.

Coburn, who is leading the effort, is determined, at the very least, to force his colleague to cast an on-the-record vote for or against earmarks. He told NRO that as many as ten to twelve Democrats might support the amendment, but even then it’s hard to see it getting the necessary 67 votes, given the likely hold-outs from Republican Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Jim Inhofe (Okla.), among others.

Leslie Page, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, told NRO that “[Coburn] is a very wily legislator; he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t think he could get everyone on the record.” Coburn, earmark opponents such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), and groups like Americans For Prosperity have warned GOP senators that those who vote against an earmark ban will face a primary challenge at the earliest opportunity.