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House GOP Caught Between Spending Mantra and ‘Bridge to Nowhere’

House Democrats used a creative floor maneuver Wednesday to force Republicans into blocking the elimination of more than $180 million in funds left over from the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark.

During consideration of a bill that would extend the authorization for surface transportation programs through Sept. 30, Democrats offered a motion to recommit that would have eliminated $183 million in funding to Alaska.

Originally earmarked in the 2005 surface transportation reauthorization for two bridges in rural Alaska, the funds were ultimately directed to the state’s transportation department after the earmark became a symbol of Congress’ abuse of the system. One of the bridges, to a tiny community on Gravina Island, became famous as the Bridge to Nowhere.

The House defeated the motion largely along party lines, 181-246. Seven Democrats voted against the motion, with no Republicans voting for it. The chamber then passed the authorization extension, 421-4.

Both parties have long attempted to use such motions as a way of scoring political points. In fact, Republicans used motions to recommit over the past two years to force Democrats into either taking politically toxic votes or breaking with their leadership to back GOP proposals.

Republicans, however, have dismissed Democrats’ use of the tactic as political and have largely avoided taking the bait in the 112th Congress. Over the past several weeks, GOP lawmakers have generally voted in lock step against such motions from Democrats.

Using a motion to recommit to attack a specific earmark as infamous as the Bridge to Nowhere was “creative,” one GOP lawmaker said, because it technically means Republicans voted to maintain the funding, despite their mantra of reducing spending.

Democrats were quick to pounce.

“What’s worse than one Republican Bridge to Nowhere? Two Republican Bridges to Nowhere. If Republicans believe their own hype about fiscal discipline then they should vote to cut the deficit by eliminating these Bridges to Nowhere,” Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), told Roll Call.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee denounced Republicans for opposing the motion.

For example, DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson dinged Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) in a statement for his vote against the motion: “It’s unbelievable that Representative Jon Runyan would vote to keep the poster child for Republican out-of-control government spending alive and kicking. … Runyan’s GOP really does stand for ‘Get Our Pork.’”

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