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WASHINGTON - Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch love their earmarks. And they don't want to give them up.
The Utah Republicans say members of Congress should be splitting up federal dough to send home instead of letting Washington bureaucrats divvy up the funds. And they backed their point late Thursday by joining many of their colleagues in voting against a one-year ban on earmarks.
The proposed prohibition on any earmarks in the fisca 2009 budget failed by a 71-29 margin. Bennett says he is proud of all the earmarks he has pushed through for Utah, and proud of the Senate for maintaining the constitutional right to the purse strings.
"Opposing earmarks is an attempt by some lawmakers to give the impression of fiscal responsibility when there is none," Bennett said in a statement. "Eliminating earmarks will not reduce overall federal spending, and yet earmarks have become the scapegoat for the government's lack of fiscal discipline."
The rise in the number of earmarks - in addition to several controversial ones like the so-called "bridge to nowhere" - has made them a dirty word in politics. This fiscal year alone, Congress earmarked 11,612 projects costing $17.2 billion, according to the government watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.
Hatch says he understands that some are opposed to earmarks, but believes that "limited congressionally directed spending" has often proved effective for getting federal dollars for local projects.
"Without this funding, federal spending priorities in Utah would be decided by bureaucrats and other non-Utahns instead of by our elected leaders and local officials," Hatch said.
Sen. Jim Demint, R-S.C., the moratorium's sponsor, said he was disappointed the Senate voted down the ban.
On Thursday, "too many in Congress embraced the earmark favor factory and proved why we have the lowest approval rating in history," DeMint said. "Earmarks represent the worst of wasteful Washington spending. . . . Americans want the bridges to nowhere and earmark scandals to stop."
The Citizens Against Government Waste named all 71 senators who voted against the ban as its "Porkers of the Month."