Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, made the following statement after the Senate defeated his amendment to prohibit the practice of trading votes for earmarks in the United States Senate. Senator DeMint's motion was defeated on a 53-46 vote.
"The American people are disgusted by the earmarks, kickbacks, and backroom deals that have been used to buy votes for this health care takeover," said Senator DeMint. "We had a chance today to put an end to this practice but Senate Democrats voted for business as usual. 53 Democrats just gave their personal seal of approval to the Louisiana Purchase, Cornhusker Kickback and other earmarks used to bribe senators into supporting this atrocious bill."
"Democrats have truly hit the bottom on their reckless pursuit of a government takeover of health care. The Democrat majority just voted to retain the culture of corruption in Congress. Just two years ago, Democrats bragged about draining the swamp, but now they're endorsing political bribery. This is Washington at its worst."
Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), who secured a special earmark for his state that forces taxpayers in 49 states to fund Medicaid in Nebraska, first voted against the ban on trading earmarks for votes but switched his vote before the final tally. Senator DeMint responded, "Senator Nelson, unfortunately, is trying to have it both ways, he was for trading his vote for earmarks before he was against it.
Because Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) had blocked all further amendments to the health care bill, Senator DeMint was forced to seek the suspension of the rules of the Senate -- a rare parliamentary maneuver -- to get an up-or-down vote on his amendment and put an end to earmark vote-buying.
"The House of Representatives has a rule that bans trading votes for earmarks but the Senate does not," said Senator DeMint. "The Senate passed a vote-trading ban in 2007 by a unanimous vote of 98 to 0, but it was dropped behind closed doors. If that rule were in place today, the earmarks and kick-backs used to buy votes for the health care bill would not have been possible."
The DeMint amendment, which only applies to future legislation, would have prohibited the use of earmarks to buy votes for legislation. Specifically, the amendment states:
(a) IN GENERAL.--It shall not be in order in the Senate to consider a congressionally directed spending item, a limited tax benefit, or a limited tariff benefit, if a Senator, Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner has conditioned the inclusion of language to provide funding for a congressional directed spending item, a limited tax benefit, or a limited tariff benefit in any amendment, bill, or joint resolution (or an accompanying report) or in any conference report on a bill or joint resolution (including an accompanying joint explanatory statement of managers) on any vote cast by any Senator, Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner.
A similar prohibition was offered by Senator DeMint and U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) in 2007 during the debate on S.1, the lobbying and ethics bill. The Durbin-DeMint amendment, which included a ban on earmark vote-trading, passed the Senate by a vote of 98 to 0. The Senate vote-trading rule was dropped in closed-door negotiations with the House and was not part of the final legislation signed by the President.
"This rule has been passed before, it only applies to future earmarks, and does not threatens the Democrats' health care bill," said Senator DeMint. "There's only one reason Democrats voted against this reform: they want to keep using earmarks to buy votes," said Senator DeMint.