Senators Debate Bill to Strip Berkeley Earmarks

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Three days ago the debate was in the streets of Berkeley-yesterday it was on the floor of the United States Senate.

Senators discussed a plan by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to remove more than $2.3 million in federal earmarks from programs in Berkeley two weeks ago after the Berkeley City Council voted to call Marine Corps recruiters stationed in Downtown Berkeley "uninvited and unwelcome intruders."

Since then, Democratic legislators have attempted to prevent the bill from passing by placing a hold on the bill.

In an effort to avoid the hold on the bill, formally called the Semper Fi Act of 2008, DeMint tried to attach the bill to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was included on yesterday's Senate agenda.

The Senate has not yet voted on DeMint's amendment to the act.

In debate over the earmark bill yesterday, DeMint said the national attention the City Council's vote received was appropriate.

"This issue is not about free speech, it's about a city that has shown total disdain for our armed forces and used its official government powers to harass our military as they try to keep our country safe," he told the Senate.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said DeMint's efforts would hurt uninvolved Berkeley residents.

"He has every right to offer his amendment, but I have every right to come down here and say not only is it mean-spirited, it is hurtful to the wrong people," she told the Senate.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council voted to rescind their plan to send a letter to the recruiters calling them "uninvited and unwelcome intruders."

Despite the decision, DeMint said he still planned to continue to pursue the legislation.

"Of course the sending of the letter at this point is inconsequential given that the text of the letter has been running on national television for a week," DeMint told the Senate.

But Boxer said she thinks the City Council's decision not to send the letter was admirable.

"I think that the council did the right thing," Boxer told the Senate. "They realized that they should not mix up the Iraq War ... and you would think that Sen. DeMint would be very glad about that, but he's not."

Boxer said she thought DeMint's efforts were based on his political agenda, not his feelings against the particular programs that were receiving funding.

If passed by the Senate, DeMint's plan will remove earmarks for programs including $243,000 for the Chez Panisse Foundation's school lunch program and $975,000 for UC Berkeley's Matsui Center on Politics and Public Service.

"(DeMint) had the opportunity to challenge the funding of those requests," Boxer said. "... Oh, no-he's now going to challenge them because someone in the City Council ... said something offensive that he didn't like."


Contact Ashley Trott at [email protected]

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