Boxer Thinks Coconut Road Investigation Should Go to Ethics Committee

Posted April 15, 2008 at 1:17pm

Correction Appended

Senate Democrats criticized Republicans on Tuesday for “burning the clock” by stalling a floor vote on the highway technical corrections bill.

The Senate voted on Monday evening, 93-1, to proceed to debate on the bill. But Democrats charge that Republicans are holding up a floor vote because of a proposed amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to investigate the origins of a controversial earmark for a Florida road project.

Coburn has called for an investigation into funds appropriated for the Coconut Road project near Fort Myers, Fla. The requested funds were inserted into the highway bill after Congress passed it, but no one has taken credit for them.

Democrats insisted Tuesday that they are optimistic that concerns about the earmark investigation will be addressed so the highway funds can finally be released one year after the House passed a similar bill.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called on Republicans to quit stalling on the measure, which he said should have received easy passage. Durbin argued that this is the first time a corrections bill has been obstructed.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee that considered the bill, said she is trying to assuage GOP worries, but she believes the matter should be referred to the Senate Ethics Committee, which she also chairs.

Boxer said she disagreed with Coburn’s characterization of the language and his efforts to thwart funding of the project.

“It’s not an earmark. It spells out [in the highway bill] that there was an intent and what that intent was,” Boxer said.

Boxer said Democrats will have to continue looking at other ways to solve the issue.

The money for the road project in question would benefit Daniel Aronoff, a real estate developer and campaign contributor to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman during the time the transportation bill passed the House.

“Congressman Young has always supported and welcomed an open earmark process. If Congress decides to take up the matter of this particular project, there will be no objection from Mr. Young,” said Young spokeswoman Meredith Kenny.

On Tuesday, Boxer questioned the Senate’s ability to investigate a Member of the other chamber. She mentioned that the normal process for an investigation into the activity of a lawmaker is through the Ethics Committee.

Correction: April 16, 2008

The article was corrected to reflect the fact that the Coconut Road project would benefit real-estate developer Daniel Aronoff, not requested by him. Furthermore, Rep. Young has not denied a connection to the project as he was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when it was being considered.