House conservatives seek earmark vote

House conservatives believe they can attract 50 Republican signatures to force a conference vote that would call for an earmark moratorium.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that he and several other anti-earmark lawmakers agreed that a rule change in the House Republican Conference would prove the GOP is committed to changing the party’s damaged reputation on fiscal discipline. Anything short of a rule change, Flake said, would be inadequate.

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In order to force a vote and call a special Conference meeting, a GOP lawmaker must accumulate 50 member signatures, a task Flake said Wednesday is within reach.

Flake and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and Republican Study Committee Chairman (RSC) Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), unveiled their moratorium proposal earlier this week and it appears the plan is gaining momentum.

But even if the 50 signatures are secured, the earmark plan faces an uphill battle of getting a majority of votes among House Republicans, especially among appropriators and others who boast of securing earmarks. The RSC has roughly 100 members, but many of them seek earmarks. There are currently 199 GOP lawmakers in the lower chamber.

“There is an increasing consensus among conservative members that the earmarking process continues to plague the effort to take back the majority, and a year-long moratorium followed by substantive reform is one option that would quickly alleviate that substantive reform by the future Republican majority,” said a House leadership aide.

According to sources familiar with the conversations, RSC members urged lawmakers to hold off on major discussions on the earmark issue until this weekend’s House GOP three-day retreat to the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed that sentiment.

“Leader Boehner has made it clear that he believes earmark reform is an important step towards fixing Washington,” Boehner spokesman Mike Steel said. “We will have a wide-ranging discussion on the earmark issue at our retreat later in the week, and we expect their proposal will be part of that discussion.”

Hensarling was optimistic Wednesday that the issue would be a focal point of retreat discussion.

“Republican Study Committee members are thrilled that Leader Boehner is making a discussion about earmarks a central priority of the Republican retreat,” Hensarling spokesman Brad Dayspring said. “He clearly understands that our shared commitment to reform, particularly in the way of earmarks, will play an instrumental role in earning back our Republican majority.”

Flake’s candidacy for the open seat on the House Appropriations Committee is in many ways hinged on a moratorium plan. The Arizona Republican admitted that if Republicans continue to earmark as usual, the Steering Committee would be hesitant to vote him onto the Appropriations Committee.

However, if there are no GOP projects, Flake said, “Then I’ll be there to make [Appropriations Committee Chairman David] Obey’s (D-Wis.) life miserable.”