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Senate directs DOJ to investigate highway spending earmark

[JURIST] The US Senate voted 64-28 [roll call] Thursday to direct the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to open an investigation into discrepancies between the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU) [text; press release] as approved in Congress and the version that was sent to the president for signature. The 2005 highway spending bill contained more than 6,000 earmarks, including $10 million earmarked for I-75 in southwestern Florida. The version that reached President George W. Bush's desk redirected the I-75 money to the "Coconut Road Interchange" in Florida. Former House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) [official website] has acknowledged that he supported the Coconut Road project at the request of Florida community residents, but the specifics of how the money was redirected to Coconut Road remain unclear. Also Thursday, the Senate voted 88-2 [roll call] to pass a bill [HR 1195] amending SAFETEA-LU.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) supported [press release] the decision to urge the DOJ to investigate whether any violations of federal criminal law occurred, while Republicans raised separation of powers concerns about having Congress direct the DOJ, an executive branch agency, to open an investigation. A 2007 House bill [HR 3248 materials] returned the $10 million earmark to the original I-75 project. AP has more.

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