NRCC will not punish Cao on earmarks

Despite bucking Republican leaders on earmarks, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.) can count on strong financial support from the House GOP campaign committee this fall.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) told The Hill on Thursday that the NRCC “will be there to help Joseph Cao.”

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He added, “We are attempting to make decisions based upon the winnability of every district, and Joseph Cao is a member of our party and I would expect and anticipate that we will be there to help Joseph Cao.”

Cao is among four House Republicans to submit earmark requests after Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced last month that his conference had adopted a yearlong ban on the pet projects. President Barack Obama won Cao’s district with 75 percent of the vote in 2008.

The other Republicans who are defying Boehner’s policy are Reps. Ron Paul (Texas), Don Young (Alaska) and Henry Brown Jr. (S.C.). Paul is expected to sail to reelection, Brown is retiring and Democrats are targeting Young’s seat this cycle. Sessions suggested Young’s stance on earmarks would not have an impact on NRCC strategy decisions.

Boehner has taken a liking to Cao. After Cao defeated then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), Boehner issued a memo titled, “The Future is Cao” that touted the GOP triumph.

Cao voted for the House healthcare bill and rejected the final measure that was signed into law. He also voted no on the economic stimulus despite wooing from the White House.

But Boehner is also serious about his earmark ban. The Republican leader, who does not seek earmarks, had long been pushing his colleagues to embrace the ban.

The Ohio lawmaker told The Hill in a recent interview, “It took me four years to do it, but it was the right thing to do.”

If Cao, Young and Paul are reelected, their stance on earmarks may cost them plum committee assignments.

“The leaders expect all House Republican members to comply with the moratorium. If a member does not conform to the rules of the conference, it will be an issue for the Steering Committee to consider,” the aide told The Hill.

But according to Cao spokesman Taylor Henry, the lawmaker is most concerned with taking care of his constituents in his New Orleans-based district, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Our district has issues that most other districts don’t have; we were devastated in 2005 and we haven’t come back yet and even a year without earmarks would set Louisiana’s 2nd district back, and Congressman Cao feels strongly that’s a decision he cannot afford to go along with,” Henry said.

Cao requested over 70 earmarks totaling more than $400 million, Henry said.

Boehner and other Republican leaders on Thursday endorsed a resolution sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that would force Democrats to join their one-year ban on earmarks and apply the money saved from that effort toward the deficit.

Goodlatte, ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, gathered 164 co-sponsors for his measure, which would also create a bipartisan, bicameral commission to study the earmarking process and offer reforms to the system.

Senate GOP leaders, unlike their House counterparts, have not embraced an earmark ban.

House Democratic leaders, who imposed a ban on earmarks going to for-profit companies, scoffed at the GOP resolution.

At a Thursday breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “[The GOP ban] puts the congressman in the position where the only way I can get something in my district is to go hat in hand to the president of the United States and say,

‘Please put this in your budget.’ Then I substantially skew the independence of the relationship between the executive department and the legislative branch. I think it is a fundamental error to take the position they are taking.”

“Republicans, who treated earmarks like monopoly money when they were in power, should support Democrats’ permanent ban on for-profit earmarks,” according to Doug Thornell, an aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Boehner on Thursday noted that during the 2008 campaign, Obama adopted a self-imposed earmark moratorium. He called on the president to urge Democrats to back the Goodlatte resolution and “call on Speaker Pelosi to schedule this for a vote.”

Russell Berman contributed to this article.