U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine joined their Republican Senate colleagues Tuesday in supporting a two-year ban on congressional earmarks to show voters they’re serious about cutting government spending.

The decision was made on a voice vote during a caucus of Republicans, who are the minority party in the Senate.

“It is a small but important step in the process of rebuilding credibility and integrity in the way in which we spend federal taxpayers dollars,” said Snowe.

Earmarks are funding requests attached to federal legislation by lawmakers to designate money for specific projects, usually in their home districts.

The practice is often criticized as wasteful spending, such as the infamous $400 million “Bridge to Nowhere” sought by the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Earmarks represent only about 1 percent of the federal budget, about $16 billion, Snowe said. The federal deficit as of last year was $1.3 trillion, leading some to say that banning earmarks does little to reduce that gap.

“People say it’s symbolic, and yes, it is,” said Snowe. “But it also has the capacity for saving money. The point is, everything counts and everything is important.”

And while banning earmarks doesn’t necessarily eliminate discretionary spending, it gives decisions on spending to the executive branch instead of Congress.

“There are concerns about giving too much power to the executive branch,” Snowe said. “They are unelected, they are not necessarily responsive, so hopefully we can put a check on that process to make sure that we conduct the kind of oversight to make sure that the dollars are spent wisely.”

Collins also supported the moratorium but echoed Snowe’s concerns.

“We are essentially leaving spending decisions to be made by the Obama administration and unelected federal workers in Washington,” she said in a statement.

Collins also said that banning earmarks alone will not be enough to dig the nation out of the budget deficit.

Most recently, Maine received earmarks for the composites center at the University of Maine, noted for its design of the “bridge-in-a-backpack” for military use, and for its development of offshore wind power technology.

House Republicans, who won a majority on Election Day, are also expected to vote to ban earmarks. Maine U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, said they have no reservations about adopting the policy, but have questions about its effectiveness.

Pingree said the key to earmarks is transparency.

“The public has a lot of questions around the earmarking process,” she said.

Michaud said he can agree to a ban, but he pointed to examples of how earmark spending helped Maine and the country.

“For instance, the (armored) vehicles that they use over in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect our soldiers – that wasn’t something that the Department of Defense wanted, that was something that actually we were able to get through an earmark process,” he said.


MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: [email protected]