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Ex-lawmaker predicts return of earmarks

Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) on Thursday told a room full of lobbyists and consultants that federal earmarks will someday make a comeback.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the group previously known as the American League of Lobbyists (ALL), LaTourette said prohibiting lawmakers from inserting pet projects into spending bills has deepened the gridlock in Congress.

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“Earmarks do, in fact, lead to discipline form time to time. It's not the bribery that some people make it out to be,” said LaTourette, an ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) who became a lobbyist after retiring from Congress last year.

“Most pieces of legislation have some stuff you can live with, some stuff you're not crazy about or some stuff you need to accept to move the process forward. So earmarks would have a way of greasing the wheels,” LaTourette said.

A spokesman for Boehner later told The Hill the earmark ban won’t end on his watch.

The 2010 ban on earmarks has also been tough on K Street, which had long helped clients score federal cash. LaTourette, a former member of the House Appropriations Committee, and others argue that eliminating earmarks doesn’t save taxpayers money because the funding is allocated before the process starts.

LaTourette was the keynote speaker at the first meeting of the Association of Government Relations Professionals (AGRP), the new name for the K Street group that represents lobbyists, consultants and other political operatives.

The group's members recently voted to change its name from the American League of Lobbyists amid a diversifying membership. LaTourette called the change “a stroke of brilliance.”

Thursday’s meeting allowed AGRP to vote in new board members and hear from Democratic and Republican leadership staff.

The group also awarded its first career achievement award — recognizing “an individual who has succeeded in offering exemplary service on behalf of AGRP and the lobbying profession throughout their career” — to Manny Rouvelas, a partner at K&L Gates.

Asked about his philosophy on maintaining sight of his principles during his 40-year lobbying career, Rouvelas credited his wife.

“She said to me, 'Never do anything that I’d be embarrassed explaining to my children or grandchildren,' ” he told The Hill.

Rouvelas, who worked on Capitol Hill decades ago, also said that putting a moratorium on earmarks was an “excessive overreaction to some bad things,” and agreed with LaTourette that they would someday return.

“I don't know exactly how it's going to happen, but I think the Constitution requires the Congress to take more control over the appropriations process,” he said. “There are abuses with earmarks and that needs to be addressed, but the government will work better when Congress reasserts itself over the aprops process.”

LaTourette said earmarks suffer from a “horrible brand name.”

“But like your association, I think we're going to have a contest to rename them,” LaTourette joked.

— This story was updated on Nov. 22.