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Senate rejects Braun amendment to strip ‘minibus’ earmarks

Five backers of the ban have earmarks worth hundreds of millions of dollars across 12 spending bills

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said earmarks encourage lawmakers to spend more.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said earmarks encourage lawmakers to spend more. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate resumed consideration of its three-bill spending “minibus” Thursday by rejecting an amendment from Sen. Mike Braun that would effectively strip spending earmarked for state and local projects from the package.

The Senate voted 35-62 to reject the Indiana Republican’s proposal that would prevent $3.8 billion in earmarked spending from going to 1,270 projects that senators included in the minibus comprising the fiscal 2024 Military Construction-VA, Agriculture and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills. 

Braun urged colleagues to adopt the amendment, saying earmarks encourage lawmakers to keep spending.

“Massive spending packages sail through this place because they’re packed with pet projects,” Braun said on the floor. “Earmarks give representatives, give senators the incentive to be big spenders. We should cut every earmark out of this bill and ban them permanently and quit loading up our kids and grandkids with the debt to pay for all this.”

Five senators who voted for the amendment secured earmarks in at least one of the Senate’s 12 appropriations bills. Across the 12 spending measures, senators who voted to strip earmarks from the three-bill package secured $486 million as individuals and by teaming up with other senators to back a project. They included Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, John Kennedy of Louisiana, John Thune of South Dakota and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. 

Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, defended the earmark process, saying less than half a percent of funding across the 12 appropriations bills would go to projects picked by senators. 

“What we’re talking about is whether the legislative branch of government should make decisions about government spending or whether that decision-making should be given entirely to the executive branch,” Collins said on the floor. “When it comes to specific projects, we’re not talking about adding more money, we’re talking about who makes the decision.”

In the three bills making up the package, Democrats secured $1.9 billion in earmarks for 775 projects while Republicans would get $1.4 billion for 303. Independent senators secured $40 million for 28 projects. The package includes about $400 million for 164 projects backed by a group of senators from more than one party. 

The Transportation-HUD bill contains the bulk of the earmarks in the minibus with $2.1 billion set aside for 919 infrastructure and community development projects. 

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who has no earmarks across the 12 appropriations bills, was the lone Democrat to vote to adopt the amendment. He faces a tough reelection race next year.

With Braun’s amendment dispensed with, the Senate has considered 30 of the 40 amendments eligible for floor votes on the package, not including a substitute amendment offered by Murray that would replace the text of the House-passed Military Construction-VA bill being used as a vehicle.

Senators have adopted 27 of the amendments so far, including provisions that would ban the Department of Transportation from enforcing a federal COVID-19 mask mandate and stop the Department of Veterans Affairs from sending a beneficiary’s name to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System whenever a financial professional is appointed to help that person manage VA benefits. 

[Related: Senate adopts gun provision among amendments to spending bill]

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor that he hoped to pass the package “as soon as next week.” The Senate adjourned for the weekend Thursday afternoon without considering any additional amendments to the package.

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