Senate Republicans to discuss repealing ban on earmarks, key tactic for passing difficult legislation

Mitt Romney
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).

  • The Senate GOP will meet next week to decide on bringing earmarks, funding members can use for their districts, back.
  • This follows House Republicans approving the restoration of earmarks in March.
  • Some GOP Senators opposed bringing earmarks back because of past abuses with the funding measure.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Almost a month after House Republicans voted to approve the restoration of earmarks, Senate Republicans are expected to meet next week to discuss bringing back the so-called community funding measures.

A decade ago, Republicans banned earmarks, which allow members to put funding for their districts in a larger bill, following a series of scandals related to earmark abuses. But now, both House Democrats and House Republicans have voted to bring them back, and Senate Republicans are set to meet next Wednesday to ratify their rules and discuss earmark usage, according to Bloomberg.

As some moderate Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, stress the importance of bipartisan legislation, earmarks could be an important tactic for easing difficult legislation through congress on bipartisan lines.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told The Hill on Tuesday that Democrats are already going forward with restoring earmarks, so he thinks “the decision is headed toward letting every member decide if they want to participate in the earmark process.”

On March 2, House Democrats introduced new guidelines for earmarks to bring them back while increasing transparency and requiring members to verify they have no financial interest in the funding requests, among other things.

On March 17, House Republicans voted by secret ballot to bring earmarks back as well. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said after the vote that there was “real concern” about solely the Biden administration directing where money goes.

“This doesn’t add one more dollar,” McCarthy said. “I think members here know what’s most important about what’s going on in their district, not Biden.”

However, some Senate Republicans did not feel the same. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters after the vote that earmarks “are not the right way to go.”

“They have been associated with excess, and it would represent a turn to the worst,” he said.

The ban on earmarks once had bipartisan support, as a series of scandals led to former President Barack Obama saying in 2011 that he would veto any bill containing earmarks.

A defining earmark scandal occurred in 2005, when Alaska Rep. Don Young secured $233 million for a bridge that would connect two small cities, which became known as the “bridge to nowhere,” as critics said the bridge would not significantly benefit Young’s community. The same year, former California Rep. Duke Cunningham landed himself eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.

As recently as March 1, a group of 10 Republican senators, led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Steve Daines of Montana, introduced a bill to permanently ban earmarks. Rubio said in a statement that earmarks had led to “corruption and waste, and bought votes in Congress for unpopular legislation.”

Although Republican lawmakers have largely opposed President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan thus far, bringing earmarks back could help pass difficult legislation as it allows lawmakers to include funding for their specific districts in bills.

The House is already using earmarks again, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is accepting member requests for community funding through April 23 .

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House Republicans vote to approve restoring earmarks after decade-long ban

FILE PHOTO: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

  • The House Republican caucus voted to approve the restoration of earmarks on Wednesday.
  • Democrats introduced reforms weeks ago as it sought to lift the GOP’s decade-old ban on earmarks.
  • Restoring the use of earmarks could make legislation easier to pass for both parties.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republicans instituted a ban on earmarks a decade ago, following a series of scandals related to abuses, but on Wednesday, House Republicans voted to support bringing earmarks back, potentially signaling a positive trajectory for President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

The vote – conducted by secret ballot – follows House Democrats’ introduction of earmark reform guidelines at the end of February. Restoring earmarks could help ease legislation that doesn’t equally benefit all representatives.

“There’s a real concern about the administration directing where money goes,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters after the vote. “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.”

However, Senate Republicans still have not voted on restoring earmarks, and some of them have already voiced clear opposition to doing so.

On Saturday, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters that earmarks “are not the right way to go.”

“They have been associated with excess, and it would represent a turn to the worst,” he said.

The ban on earmarks – which Democrats have been calling “community-funding projects” – has a loaded history, and for a time, had bipartisan support.

In 2005, Alaska Rep. Don Young secured $233 million for a bridge that would connect two small cities, which became known as the “bridge to nowhere,” with critics saying the bridge would not significantly benefit Young’s community. The same year, former California Rep. Duke Cunningham landed himself eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in return for promising earmarks to defense contractors.

Former President Barack Obama in 2011 said that he would veto any bill containing earmarks, and until 2019, when then-House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey explored bringing earmarks back, Congress functioned without the community funding measure for a decade.

And on March 1, 10 Republican senators, led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Steve Daines of Montana, introduced a bill to permanently ban earmarks. Rubio said in a statement that earmarks led to “corruption and waste, and bought votes in Congress for unpopular legislation.”

Bringing back earmarks with Republican support could help Biden move forward with his infrastructure bill, which he and other Democrats have said they would like to be bipartisan. The president has not yet announced specific funding plans for infrastructure, and conservative and moderate lawmakers have already made it clear that they will not support another bill that uses reconciliation.

But if the GOP lends support to earmarks, they could have a greater say in the course the infrastructure bill might take and where the spending would go, which would be a relief to lawmakers like Rep. Sam Graves – ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – who said in a statement that he does not want “another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.”

The passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill was his first major economic victory, and with the potential return of earmarks, along with possible reforms to the filibuster – which Biden said on an ABC News interview on Tuesday that he would support – implementing his economic agenda could occur with greater ease than expected.

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