Published Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 | 3:59 p.m.
Updated Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 | 4:41 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid's got one key Republican ally in his effort to shout down Republican Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska's accusations that a measure to free up millions in maglev-rail funds for Nevada is an earmark: Sen. Dean Heller.
Johanns took aim at Reid and the transportation bill currently going through the Senate earlier this month, complaining that a line in the legislation allowing Nevada to use about $45 million unspent maglev-rail funds for other purposes was an earmark. President Barack Obama pledged to veto any bill containing an earmark last year.
Johanns filed an amendment to strip the provision from the transportation bill the same day.
Reid has argued that the provision is not an earmark, since it's money Nevada already has.
"In my opinion, it isn't," Heller said Monday, when asked if he thought the provision in question met the definition of an earmark, as Johanns says it does. "It's not for a specific purpose and it's not new money."
While Heller says he has yet to examine the amendment -- and added that he wanted to look more closely before he would say how he planned to vote -- the judgment about the definition is significant because Heller railed against earmarks during his time in Washington, D.C.
In 2010, Heller called the earmark process "a symbol of the glut in our nation's capital," while arguing in favor of an out-and-out earmark ban.
At the same time, a spokesman for Reid argued that an earmark ban was "not in Nevada's best interests."
But while they may differ as to the merits of earmarks, both Republican and Democrat from Nevada are agreed as far as this provision goes: Not an earmark.
CORRECTION: The original version incorrectly stated that Sen. Dean Heller had never requested an earmark while in Congress. | (February 27, 2012)