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Political Notebook

Following defense of earmarks, Reid reaches out to McConnell

December 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided last night to abandon a 1,924-page catchall spending measure that’s laced with homestate pet projects known as earmarks.

Instead, Reid said he would work with GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who lambasted the omnibus bill, to produce a short-term bill to keep the government running into early next year.

The decision came only a few hours after Reid launched into a vociferous defense of earmarks, branding Republicans “hypocrites’’ and pushing back against President Obama.

At one point, the soft-spoken Nevada Democrat pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his suit jacket and waved it in the air.

“The little Constitution that we have doesn’t have a lot of information in it, but what is in it is what runs this country,’’ he said. “And I am convinced that I do not want to give up more power to the White House, whether it’s George Bush or Barack Obama. And I’m going to fight as hard as I can against President Obama on these earmarks — and my Republican colleagues who hate to vote for them but love to get them.’’

Earmarks, which are provisions added by a legislator to a bill, direct money to a specific project instead of going through normal funding channels that typically are reviewed by government agencies. President Obama and Republicans have criticized the funding practice in recent months.

Reid had been pushing a $1.1 trillion spending bill — one that has more than $8 billion in earmarks, including $213 million for 174 projects in Massachusetts.

In Reid’s early defense of the bill, he took aim at Republicans who have criticized it, even after they had previously requested earmarks that are included in it. For example, McConnell had said he would fight to kill the bill, even as he sponsored earmarks worth at least $112 million in the measure, according to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“Some of the people who speak out against congressionally directed spending, or earmarks, are people who have more earmarks than others,’’ Reid said. “They’re hoping, of course, it will pass and they can go home and do the press . . . saying, ‘Here I am, cut the ribbon, look what I did.’ You can’t have it both ways.’’

“You can all look it up in the dictionary yourself,’’ he added. “But I bet if you went to H in the dictionary and found hypocrite, under that would be people who ask for earmarks but then vote against them.’’

In the next breath, he said, “I would hope that we would cut down the mean-spirited talk about this and just do our jobs.’’

Reid also threatened to keep the Senate in session until early next year, when the next Congress officially begins, as a way to ensure votes on several other issues.

— Globe Staff

Natural resources role key for Democrats, Markey says
WASHINGTON — Representative Edward J. Markey was selected yesterday to be the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, providing the Malden Democrat with a key role that he said will allow him to block the Republican agenda.

The committee deals with issues involving the environment, energy, and public land.

“In the next Congress, Republicans will attempt to short-circuit the laws that keep our water clean, our air clear, and our public lands pristine, while giving short shrift to emerging clean energy technologies that can create jobs and clean up our environment,’’ Markey said in a statement. “With my fellow Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee, I believe we can chart a course that will continue the progress we’ve made on creating energy jobs here in America, without sacrificing our nation’s natural heritage.’’

Markey, one of the most senior members in the House, has been chairing a select committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. That committee is being eliminated when Republicans take control of the House next month, and Democrats are shuffling leadership roles.

The current chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Representative Nick Rahall of West Virginia, is leaving to become the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Markey has served on the Natural Resources Committee since 1976.

— Matt Viser

House approves minimum sound levels for hybrids
WASHINGTON — Silent hybrid vehicles may soon be a thing of the past.

Auto safety regulators would be required to set minimum sound levels for hybrid and electric vehicles under a bill approved yesterday by the House. Blind pedestrians have pushed for the changes, saying the quiet purr of hybrids can pose risks for them because they use sound cues to travel safely.

Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are well-regarded for their high gas mileage. They are virtually silent when propelled by electric motors at low speeds. With more hybrids and new electric cars coming onto the market, automakers and advocates for the blind have raised concerns about potential safety problems for blind pedestrians.

The House passed the bill 379-30. The Senate approved its version, sponsored by Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, last week, and the measure now goes to President Obama for his signature.

— Associated Press 

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