Showing he can be every bit as bullying to advance a bad idea, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) held open a vote on his watered down earmark reform legislation today in order to round up enough votes to push it through.
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Part of the Senate's ethics reform bill deals with earmarks -- lawmakers' often abused practice of inserting items in legislation to direct funds to special interests (a la Duke Cunningham). According to current rules, lawmakers can attach earmarks anonymously, a state of affairs inviting abuse. Reform efforts have sought to change that. Republicans and good government types have criticized Reid's version of earmark reform legislation, which is weaker than the version passed by House Democrats, saying that it doesn't go near far enough in terms of disclosure.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) offered an amendment today that mirrored the tougher legislation passed by House Democrats.
According to Craig Holman of Public Citizen, Reid's version, if it had been applied to earmarks as part of legislation passed last year, would have disclosed the sponsor of only approximately 500 earmarks. DeMint's amendment would have forced sponsors to be known of roughly 12,000.
"DeMint's version is considerably tougher," Holman told me, noting that both Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who co-sponsored the bill, are "on the appropriations committee and haven't really believed in strong earmark reform propoals in the first place."
But Democrats sought to block DeMint's amendment, with an effort led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). They failed, due mostly to nine Democrats, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and freshmen Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jim Webb (D-VA), who crossed the aisle to vote with the Republicans, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Here's the roll call tally.
But instead of then passing DeMint's amendment, as would normally occur in the Senate, the Democratic leadership held the vote open, a move that Senate Republicans called unprecedented, and reminiscent of tactics used by the GOP-controlled House that voters just booted.