House Republicans Endorse Bringing Back Earmarks

March 17, 2021 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Capitol, Aug. 5, 2020. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – House Republicans passed a resolution during their weekly conference meeting on Wednesday in support of restoring earmarks.

The 102-84 vote comes as Democrats continue to prepare to revive the practice.

Earmarks – funding for specific projects usually inserted into broad spending bills – were eliminated in 2011 by Republicans who had just recaptured the House riding a wave of Tea Party support from voters insisting the federal government tighten its purse strings.

The move came after several incidents in which earmarks became the focal point of corruption probes involving several lobbyists, lawmakers and congressional aides.

The House Republican Conference rules change was authored by Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, and has a number of provisions in common with the earmark restoration plan House Democrats announced last month.

Among other things, the Democrats’ plan will cap the total amount of money that can be spent on earmarks to 1% of total discretionary spending.

In addition, members will be capped at submitting 10 earmark requests per fiscal year, though members aren’t guaranteed to get those earmarks included in the annual government funding bills.

To be considered, members must provide evidence their communities support the earmarks they submit. And any member submitting a request must post it online at the same time they submit their proposal to the Appropriations Committee.

Under the proposed rule, for-profit entities will not be eligible for earmarks and the Government Accountability Office will audit the process by looking at an as-yet unspecified sample of enacted earmarks and submitting a report to Congress.

Finally, the Democrats plan to create a “one-stop” online portal for all House members’ earmark requests.

Under the resolution adopted behind closed doors Wednesday morning, GOP members must also publicly disclose their earmark requests when submitted and affirm that neither the lawmaker nor immediate family members have a financial interest in such projects.

The Republicans also voted to have members explain in writing why the earmark they request is an appropriate use of taxpayer funds.

The conference rules amendment also says that committee and party leaders “shall not give consideration to a member’s seniority, committee assignments, or position in the elected leadership when facilitating a request.”

But once again, Wednesday’s vote revealed cracks in Republican unity in the House

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, immediately encouraged others to sign a letter he is circulating vowing to resist the move.

It says simply: “We, the undersigned, pledge that we will not request earmarks, or the preferred euphemism of the day, ‘Community Project Funding.’”

“The pledge letter will remain open for any member of Congress who wishes to join,” Roy said via Twitter.

Yet another conservative Republican, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, complained, “it is irresponsible for us to reintroduce earmarks before restoring regular order to the appropriations process.”

“America ran a $3.1 trillion budget deficit in FY20. Reestablishing earmarks right now will only increase that number,” he said.

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