OPIOID SERIES:

Some in GOP want return to earmarks

A growing number of Republicans want to lift the earmark ban that has been embraced by President Obama and Congress. 

The GOP lawmakers say the moratorium should be reconsidered after the 2012 election, when there is a chance that Republicans will have control of the House and the Senate.

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The earmark issue divides Senate Republicans, and thus is usually not discussed during their weekly meetings. But it is again front and center because of an effort spearheaded by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillHeitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd McCaskill outpaces GOP opponent by more than million MORE (D-Mo.) to permanently ban earmarks. 

Thirteen Republican senators last week voted against the Toomey-McCaskill bill. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd FreedomWorks backs Jim Jordan for House Speaker MORE, who has a long track record of securing earmarks for his home state of Kentucky, quietly voted to approve it.

The measure has alarmed some Republican senators, even those considered among the chamber’s most conservative members.

“It’s a cessation of a constitutional power of Congress,” said Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAppeals court rules against Trump effort to hit 'sanctuary cities' Justice Dept inspector asks US attorney to consider criminal charges for McCabe: reports Poll: Almost two-thirds of Texas voters support legal recreational marijuana MORE (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Budget Committee.

The Senate Republican Conference adopted a two-year conference-wide moratorium on earmarks in November 2010 after picking up seats in the midterm election. 

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE (R-Ohio) worked for years before successfully implementing an earmark ban, and he doesn’t plan to let up anytime soon. 

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is in BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE’s camp. The GOP front-runner in the 2012 presidential race supports a permanent ban on earmarks. 

Obama, meanwhile, endorsed an earmark moratorium during his 2011 State of the Union address.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination The Memo: Teens rankle the right with gun activism Dems to party: Go on offense with Trump’s alleged affairs MORE (D-Nev.) has frequently defended Congress’s right to direct federal spending on local projects, and did so again last week. 

Reid has said Obama is “absolutely wrong” on earmarks and should “back off.”

Sessions claimed he was an enthusiastic supporter of the moratorium “because the process had been abused.”

Sessions and other Republicans, however, do not want to give the executive branch the everlasting power to direct spending in their districts.

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerLet's hold Facebook to the same standards as other players in the industry Cindy Hyde-Smith sworn in as Mississippi's latest senator Miss. Dem touts campaign poll saying he leads GOP candidates in Senate race MORE (R-Miss.), a former House appropriator, said Republicans should consider agreeing to lift the moratorium at the end of 2012.

“What we agreed to do, and I think on balance it was a good policy, was have a moratorium for this Congress, which we have done and with which we are complying, and then revisit the issue,” he said.

Some Republicans say there is broader support for revisiting the earmark ban, noting last week’s amendment was a “message vote” that had no chance of passing. It mustered only 40 votes.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination Senate panel moving ahead with Mueller bill despite McConnell opposition Overnight Defense: Lawmakers worry over Syria strategy | Trump's base critical of strikes | Flake undecided on Pompeo | Coast Guard plans to keep allowing transgender members | GOP chair wants to cut B from Pentagon agencies MORE (R-S.C.) voted for Toomey’s amendment, though he has made clear he would prefer to reform the practice of earmarking, rather than end it. 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators press administration on mental health parity Overnight Energy: Watchdogs unveil findings on EPA, Interior controversies | GAO says EPA violated law with soundproof booth | IG says Zinke could have avoided charter flight | GOP chair probes Pruitt's four email addresses GOP fractures over push to protect Russia probe MORE (R-Alaska), a member of the Appropriations Committee, said that “we have some done some pretty substantive reforms,” adding there would be much more transparency in the future, with lawmakers posting project requests online.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting Overnight Energy: Former Pruitt aide alleges more wasteful spending, retaliation | Senate confirms EPA No. 2 | Zinke backs off big park fee increases Senate approves Trump’s pick for No. 2 at EPA MORE (R-Okla.), one of the most outspoken opponents of the earmark ban, said momentum is gathering to overturn the moratorium. He said GOP colleagues increasingly realize they have ceded too much authority on funding home-state projects to the Obama administration. 

“I think they’re learning,” said Inhofe. “It’s been long in the making, but people now realize — more people every week realize that argument is real, that we’re ceding our authority to Obama.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel, has vowed to revisit the moratorium this year. 

Still, Boehner poses a major obstacle, because even if the Senate revives the use of earmarks at some point, he would seek to remove them in House-Senate conference discussions.

Boehner has never solicited earmarks during his congressional career, and many of the conservatives in his conference would balk at resurrecting them. 

“I think the American people would be outraged if earmarks became a regular process in bills again,” said Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenators express concerns over Haspel's 'destruction of evidence' Overnight Cybersecurity: US, UK blame Russia for global cyberattacks | Top cyber official leaving White House | Zuckerberg to meet EU digital chief Senators, state officials to meet on election cybersecurity bill MORE (R-N.C.), one of Boehner’s closest friends.

Burr said he does not see the earmark moratorium lifting while Boehner is Speaker. 

Boehner is seeking to move a controversial transportation bill through the lower chamber that, unlike prior highway measures, does not have any earmarks. 

There are a fair number of House Republican critics of Boehner’s earmark moratorium, including Reps. Ron Paul (Texas) and Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungPension committee must deliver on retirement promise Our leaders must end the hate before they burn America down Alaska rep denies suggesting armed Jews could have prevented Holocaust MORE (Alaska). 

Controversy surrounding earmarks surfaced again this week after an investigation by The Washington Post found that 33 members of Congress directed more than $300 million in earmarks and other spending measures to public projects proximate to properties they owned, potentially enhancing their value. 

Toomey and McCaskill have said they will offer their Earmark Elimination Act again as an amendment to the transportation authorization bill, which is due to reach the Senate floor soon. 

“The earmarking system wastes taxpayer dollars, creates the appearance of corruption and undermines public confidence in the legislative process,” Toomey said Wednesday. “Although our amendment failed last week, nothing in Washington gets done without sustained effort, and we will not stop until we eliminate this wasteful earmarking from the halls of Congress.”