House GOP votes to reverse internal ban on earmarks

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Washington — House Republicans voted Wednesday morning to reverse an internal ban on earmarks, which allow lawmakers to direct funding in spending legislation to pet projects, according to a Republican familiar with the vote. The Democratic majority in the House and Senate have moved forward to reinstate earmarks, now renamed “community project funding.”

The GOP resolution, which was adopted by a secret-ballot vote, was written to say that members may not request earmarks unless several criteria are met, including the public disclosure and justification for the request. Members and their immediate family cannot have a financial interest in the request, and it must comply with any guidance issued by Republican committee chairs or ranking members.

These criteria align with those laid out by House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, who announced the House would move to reinstate earmarks in late February. While many in the GOP conference still oppose the use of earmarks, Republicans recognized they would cede important control over how federal dollars are spent if they let Democrats direct spending without their input.

“There’s a real concern about the administration directing where money goes. This doesn’t add one more dollar. I think members here know what’s most important about what’s going on in their district, not Biden,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters after the vote. The decision by House Republicans comes ahead of an expected vote on a massive infrastructure bill to be proposed by the Biden administration.

Republicans ended the use of earmarks in 2011, after they swept into the House with a large majority. The vote by the House GOP conference to reverse the self-imposed ban will put pressure on Senate Republicans to also allow earmarks again.

The structure imposed by DeLauro does not increase federal spending, but gives members more say in how existing funds are used. DeLauro announced in late February that there would be a maximum of 10 project requests per member, and spending on these projects will be capped at no more than 1% of discretionary spending. There is no prohibition on earmarks in the House rules, so House committees can start implementing these policies as they write the appropriations bills this spring for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

“Members want Congress to help their communities, particularly now as the pandemic exposed so many inequalities and needs,” DeLauro said at the time. “Community Project Funding will allow Members to put their deep, first-hand understanding of the needs of their communities to work to help the people we represent.”

Earmarks are considered legislative sweeteners for leadership to entice their members to support major bills, and perhaps even attract votes from the opposition party.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy told reporters last week that he was “perfectly willing to have designated spending,” and “perfectly willing to divide it equally between Republicans and Democrats.”

“It will be up to them if they want it. If they don’t, we’ll just have it on the Democratic side. But I think enough of them would like to have it on both sides. And I’m perfectly willing to divide it equally,” Leahy said about reinstituting earmarks.

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