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Republicans Lash Out at Supplemental Earmarks

Senate Republican budget hawks warned Wednesday that they have President Bush’s assurance he would veto the $120 billion-plus supplemental spending bill if billions in non-emergency earmarks are included — even if the final package does not set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq.

The emergency spending bill carries add-ons ranging from $2 million for the University of Vermont to $165,200 for the widow of the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) to $100 million to Denver and St. Paul, Minn., for security at next year’s presidential conventions.

Calling the earmarks “blood money,” Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) said Wednesday during an afternoon press conference that the White House has indicated Bush will veto the bill over extraneous funding even if Democrats eventually remove the Iraq timetable provisions. The lawmakers have received “reassurances from the White House that he will veto it,” Coburn said.

The lawmakers also unveiled a letter they sent to 14 trade associations and organizations, the mayors of St. Paul and Denver, and the University of Vermont urging them to contact lawmakers and ask that the earmarks be stripped from the bill. “We encourage the individuals, institutions and organizations with these unrelated and superfluous add-ons in the House or Senate emergency spending legislation to withdraw your support for these unrelated provisions.,” the lawmakers wrote. Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also signed the letter.

Their pleas, however, appeared to fall on deaf ears, at least in the Senate, where Democrats stymied efforts to cut provisions from the bill, defeating a handful of amendments by Republicans targeting specific earmarks.

Democrats also put tight constraints on the number of amendments aimed at eliminating earmarks that Republicans could propose, forcing DeMint to pare his list of three amendments to one dealing with a massive bailout for the spinach industry, which is expected to be voted on today.

DeMint also likely will ask for unanimous consent today to enforce earmark disclosure rules included in the Senate’s ethics reform bill. Although already approved by the Senate, the underlying ethics bill must be signed into law before the rules, which would require Members to disclose whether they or family members would gain from an earmark, go into effect.

Democrats have been wary to allow DeMint to bring his motion, since it is all but certain to fail because of Democratic objections.

Even as Democrats were successfully beating back repeated efforts by the three lawmakers to strip the offending language, the clearly frustrated Members lashed out at their colleagues for including the provisions in a bill designed to fund troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Any Congressman or Senator who wants to sell their vote for a project back home is really letting their country down,” Graham charged. In fact, Graham told reporters he personally would contact Norwood’s widow and ask her to reject the funding — which aides described as a standard bereavement payment for spouses of lawmakers — so long as it is a part of the supplemental.