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Video: Lawmakers make last-minute rush on earmarks

  1. Transcript of: Lawmakers make last-minute rush on earmarks

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: On Capitol Hill tonight in Washington , a sudden firestorm over an old issue, earmarks, the pet projects that lawmakers hang onto must-pass bills; pieces of legislation like ornaments on a Christmas tree . Our own Kelly O'Donnell 's with us tonight from the Capitol . Kelly , good evening.

    KELLY O'DONNELL reporting: Good evening, Brian . Well, we're still waiting for a vote on that tax compromise to keep everybody's rates the same, and then this unfolded, a drama over government spending across all the agencies. As you said, many lawmakers have pushed for these special projects, now say they won't do it anymore. And it turns out there appears to be one last giant effort to get thousands of these projects through. With time running out, Republicans are complaining loudly that a massive spending bill just hit their desks late today.

    Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Minority Leader): In this case, almost 2,000-page bill that no one has seen, at least on my side of the aisle.

    O'DONNELL: The measure would spend $1.1 trillion of your money, and it's packed with those special earmarked projects lawmakers of both parties added on, the kind of spending many promised to stop. Senator John McCain says Congress failed to get the message.

    Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Which is a direct -- a direct betrayal of the majority of the voters of November 2nd who said stop the earmarking, stop the spending, stop the outrageous pork barrel projects.

    O'DONNELL: Senator McCain 's staff pointed to a few examples they call

    unnecessary spending: $208,000 for beaver management in North Carolina , $235,000 for noxious weed management in Nevada , $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama , and $247,000 for virus-free wine grapes in Washington state . Taxpayer advocates say many see this as a last chance before earmarks are banned.

    Mr. STEVE ELLIS (Taxpayers for Common Sense): A lot of it comes down to the same way that Washington works, pay to play. People make campaign contributions to a variety of lawmakers who then advocate on their behalf and essentially then are able to get their provisions taken care of.

    O'DONNELL: Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid defended the bill and will fight to pass it.

    Majority Leader HARRY REID: I think that the people on the Appropriations Committee worked very, very hard. I think they have a very good piece of legislation, and I think we're going to move forward with that.

    O'DONNELL: The estimated total for these earmarks is $8 billion, less than 1 percent of the whole total, and it actually is a smaller number than years past. Now, Republicans like McConnell say they've got some of these in here too, but they will fight to stop this bill. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: Kelly O'Donnell on the Hill for us tonight. Kelly , thanks

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