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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman December 1, 2010

Bill Nelson talks one way on earmarks, but votes another

Florida's U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson joined 32 Republicans and six other Democrats on Nov. 30, 2010, in unsuccessfully pushing for a moratorium on earmarks for the next three federal budget years.

But that's not the position Nelson staked out just two weeks prior.

Speaking to reporters on Nov. 15, 2010, after meeting with Florida U.S. Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, Nelson said earmarks were an important part of creating jobs and growing Florida's economy. (Rubio supports a moratorium on federal earmarks).

Nelson said he gave Rubio "the example of bringing a nuclear aircraft carrier to Mayport (and) the necessary earmarks that take place over five years. It's a request by the Department of Defense, but if I didn't attend to that appropriation, the Virginia delegation was going to eliminate a carrier going into Florida."

Nelson then talked about ports in Miami and Jacksonville needing millions of dollars to deepen their channels so that ships using the Panama Canal could dock there -- and how getting an earmark to pay for the work is critical.

"That is huge to Florida -- to trade, to jobs, to economic activity, that all of those big cargo ships coming through the Panama Canal come to Florida instead of going to Savannah and to Charleston," Nelson said. "Those are the hard realities when we talk about the appropriations we call earmarks. So if you tie them to jobs in your local economy, that seems like that's a defining way."

Yet on Nov. 30, 2010, he was one of 39 senators to support waiving Senate rules to consider an earmark moratorium for fiscal years 2011, 2012 and 2013. The measure failed 56-39.

That Nov. 30 vote also stands in contrast to a vote Nelson cast eight months earlier, according to Senate records. On March 16, 2010, Nelson was one of 68 senators to table a motion to ban earmarks for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The motion was tabled by a vote of 68-29.

Asked about the switch in positions by the St. Petersburg Times' Alex Leary, Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said: "These are unusual (economic) times. ... Going forward Sen. Nelson will keep looking for ways to cut spending, while also fighting to make sure Florida gets its fair share of federal funding for things like ports, military bases and major projects that bring new jobs."

Without a formal ban, Nelson -- who is up for reelection in 2012 -- is free to continue to pursue earmarks. But his Nov. 30 vote is an about-face from an earlier vote and his comments to reporters. So it's an easy call for our Flip-O-Meter. We say Full Flop.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

U.S. Senate, S.Amdt. 3454 to S.Amdt. 3452 to H.R. 1586, roll call, March 16, 2010

U.S. Senate, S.Amdt. 4697 to S. 510, roll call, Nov. 30, 2010

St. Petersburg Times, Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson disagree on earmarks, Nov. 15, 2010

St. Petersburg Times, Bill Nelson, eye on 2012, flips position on earmark ban, Nov. 30, 2010

Jacksonville Times-Union, Mayport to get aircraft carrier, Jan. 30, 2010

St. Petersburg Times, U.S. Sen.-elect Marco Rubio joins earmark ban effort, Nov. 11, 2010

Miami Today, Port of Miami due major upgrade to meet Panama Canal improvements, Nov. 4, 2010

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Bill Nelson talks one way on earmarks, but votes another

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