Republicans Lead New Push to Revive Earmarks

Feb 2, 2018

While a bipartisan budget agreement remains elusive, many Republicans in Congress are warming to the idea of bringing back congressionally directed spending, otherwise known as earmarks. The ban on earmarks was imposed in the House of Representatives at the urging of former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in 2011. Since then, Congress has imposed additional restrictions on federal spending, including budget caps on all discretionary spending, further restricting the ability of lawmakers to ensure federal dollars are being directed to priority issues in their districts. 

Of the 238 members of the House Republican Conference, 153 first began serving in January 2011 or later, leaving them no experience with the earmarking process. Some veteran lawmakers such as Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), argue that it is time to revisit the ban.  Rep. Cole’s proposal would allow Congress to direct as much as $15 billion a year to specific projects.  Rep. Cole sits on the House Appropriations Committee and frequently argues that Congress should reclaim its authority to direct spending and ensure priority projects are funded appropriately by the executive branch.

“Since the enactment of this ban, members and their constituents have grown more frustrated as federal funds have been appropriated only to be redirected to different uses via executive branch directive,” said Republican Conference Vice Chairman Doug Collins (R-GA).  Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said his panel would vote soon on recommendations to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the House Republican Conference. Wisconsin colleague and Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) said he might support a competitive and open process for selecting projects to put at the top of the federal priority list, particularly for infrastructure.

Several Appropriators offered amendments at the beginning of the 115th Congress that would amend House Republican Conference rules to allow earmarks once again, but the measure was withdrawn unilaterally by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-OH), preventing the issue from coming to a vote in the Republican Conference.

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