Tester, Baucus Oppose Earmark Break

By Beacon Staff

WASHINGTON – Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus of Montana on Thursday opposed a Republican attempt to block lawmakers’ pet projects for a year.

The Senate killed the GOP amendment, which would have placed a one-year moratorium on such “earmarks,” using a procedural maneuver during debate on the federal budget late Thursday night. The vote against the moratorium was 71-29.

Before the vote, both Tester and Baucus said they intended to vote against the idea.

“Now more than ever, large, rural states like Montana need funding for basic infrastructure,” Tester said in a statement. “That’s why I prioritize projects that improve roads, water systems, health care facilities and research projects that are critical to Montana’s future.”

The subject of earmarks is delicate for Tester, who often talked about ethics and earmark reform in his successful 2006 Senate campaign against Republican Sen. Conrad Burns. He criticized Burns in debates for touting the money he had brought back to the state, saying the projects often inserted into bills by lawmakers should be brought out of the “middle of night without transparency” and be scrutinized.

Today, Tester says that ethics reform passed by Congress does make the process more transparent, but Montana can’t afford a one-year break.

Baucus agreed, saying he is proud of money that he and Tester have secured for the state.

“There’s no question that some earmarks are bad,” Baucus said. “That’s why we reformed the system and took a spotlight to the whole process. But to shut the spigot off entirely would hurt Montana’s economy.”

Montana’s lone member of the House, Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, disagrees. Despite his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee that doles out federal dollars, Rehberg backed GOP colleagues in supporting the one-year ban.

“A moratorium will ensure Congress focuses on creating a system that gives taxpayers the most value for their hard-earned dollar,” Rehberg said.

Rehberg supported a GOP alternative to the House Democrats’ budget that included the moratorium. The alternative was rejected.

“Unfortunately, it appears House Democrats refuse to enact this type of good government,” Rehberg said.

All three presidential candidates agreed with Rehberg. Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton joined with GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain in voting to ban the pet projects for one year.