'Bridge to Nowhere' lawmaker Young drops his push against earmark ban

An Alaskan Republican lawmaker famed for backing the "Bridge to Nowhere" withdrew a proposal Thursday to weaken the House GOP's earmark ban. 

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) withdrew an amendment to House GOP rules under pressure from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who had made his opposition to the measure clear. The measure would have allowed an exception to the earmark ban if the recipient of the earmark was a unit of local government.

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A source close to the Speaker told The Hill the Young amendment would have created "a gaping loophole" to the earmark ban. 

"At the end of the day, he declined to offer it because of the clear opposition in the room," the source said. "Prior to Young pulling the amendment, the Speaker had let it be known that he opposed the amendment and would ask for its defeat if offered."

Boehner has been a longtime proponent of the earmark ban, having never requested any so-called "pork barrel" spending during his tenure in the House.

When the Republicans adopted the no-earmark moratorium two years ago, Boehner told his disgruntled colleagues, "earmarks have become a symbol of a Congress that has broken faith with the people. This earmark ban shows the American people we are listening and we are dead serious about ending business as usual in Washington.”

In 2005, Young directed $223 million in an earmark to fund a bridge in Alaska connecting Ketchikan, Alaska, to Gravina Island. The bridge was dubbed the "Bridge to Nowhere" by critics of government spending who said few people would use the bridge. 

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), who is in line to become the next House Transportation Committee Chairman, said members stood up in Thursday’s meeting to discuss the constitutional role that earmarks play in the government. 

“We just have to figure out ... Is there a way to do it that's transparent and that falls in the Constitution, and we're not spending money on every small local project that, in the past, shouldn't have been spent on," Shuster said.

Earlier this year, a handful of GOP lawmakers began to make the case for the reinstatement of “directed spending” by Congress.

Rep. John Culberson (Texas) joined the critics of the earmark ban in May. The conservative lawmaker, who is chairman of a military construction Appropriations panel, complained that he wasn’t able to expedite the expansion of a governmental military facility in Ohio due to the earmark moratorium. The expansion of the lab is now slated for 2016.

“In light of new security threats to our country and our allies, expansion of [the Foreign Materials Exploitation Lab] is desperately needed now. And because of the earmark ban, I can't move it … it’s just nuts,” Culberson told The Hill at the time. 

Culberson’s comments came on the heels of a separate conference-wide discussion on lifting the earmark ban. Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers (R) garnered a round of applause at that meeting when he told GOP leaders that the rank-and-file wanted a reinstatement of earmarks. 

But the GOP has struggled to come up with a transparent system for earmarks that would prevent corruption. 

Earmark scandals played a role in the Republican Party’s loss of the House in 2006, when then-Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for securing millions of dollars in earmarks for defense contractors.

Cunningham pleaded gulity to bribery charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

— This story was posted 3:46 p.m. and updated at 5:22 p.m.