WASHINGTON — Despite post-election tough talk about cutting government spending, the Senate refused Tuesday to surrender its power to set aside millions of dollars for projects back home.
But even though the proposed ban on earmarks through 2012 couldn't muster enough allies, supporters were encouraged.
"We've had many votes over the four years I've been here and we've never gotten this close," said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, one of the lead sponsors of the ban. "That's the good news. The bad news is it's still a bipartisan problem. We have a number of Republicans who voted 'no,' and way too many Democrats voted 'no.' "
A majority of Democrats, joined by eight Republicans, opposed the ban. It was offered as an amendment to a food safety bill, which later passed. The measure to consider the earmark cutoff needed a two-thirds majority to pass and gained only 39 votes.
Florida's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican George LeMieux, voted for the ban.
Earmarks are projects that lawmakers drop into the federal budget with little or no scrutiny. The fiscal 2010 budget contained $16 billion worth of earmarks, about 1 percent of federal spending. Supporters argue that earmarks enhance the quality of life, like improving public infrastructure to increasing cultural amenities. They say a ban would have little impact on a deficit that reached $1.3 trillion last year.