Key Democrat unveils plan to restore limited earmarks

Key Democrat unveils plan to restore limited earmarks
© Bloomberg/Pool

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHouse adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden House passes sprawling spending bill ahead of fall shutdown fight MORE (D-Conn.) unveiled a plan on Friday to restore a limited version of earmarks that would allow lawmakers to direct spending for special projects in their districts.

Republicans banned the practice of earmarks upon taking over the House majority in 2011 because of concerns about corruption.

But supporters of restoring the practice, including House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure House passes sprawling spending bill ahead of fall shutdown fight MORE (D-Md.), argue that it allows members of Congress to more specifically direct spending and helps build broader support for appropriations bills.

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A memo from DeLauro asserts that returning earmarks with reforms “restores balance between Congress and the Executive Branch on important decisions about how and where to spend taxpayer dollars.” 

“Allowing members of Congress to use their knowledge to direct funding to the worthiest projects in their communities brings Congress closer to fulfilling its Constitutional power of the purse,” the memo adds.

The restoration of earmarks, as outlined by DeLauro, would include limitations to ensure safeguards from abuses that led to scandals over earmarks in the years before House Republicans instituted the moratorium.

Under DeLauro’s plan, earmarks — which Democrats are calling “community project funding” — would only be permitted if lawmakers adhere to requirements like providing evidence of “strong community support” and only request funding for up to 10 projects.

The funding could only go toward state and local grantees or eligible nonprofit organizations, and could not be directed to for-profit recipients. 

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Lawmakers would have to certify that neither they nor their families have any financial interest in the projects. In addition, every project funding request would be posted publicly online with descriptions justifying the rationale. 

The Government Accountability Office would also be required to audit a sample of enacted earmarks to ensure that the funding was used for its original intent. 

Earmarks would be limited to one percent of discretionary funding.

Not everyone is on board with the idea of restoring the practice of earmarks. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus came out in opposition to restoring the spending practice.

“The old system was flawed, leading to corruption and coercion. Congress was right to stop the rampant earmark abuse and work towards a more transparent appropriations process. However, in attempting to correct this spending mechanism, we ceded too much power to the executive branch,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

“Congress has become too comfortable with top-line appropriations, letting unelected bureaucrats determine our nation’s spending priorities. We cannot return to the old earmarks rules. However, Congress must reassert its Article I, Section 8 spending authority to control the budget,” he added.

But Hoyer said earlier this week that he has “talked to a lot of Republicans who I expect are going to be requesting earmarks for their districts.” 

“My view has been, that is the constitutional responsibility of the Congress of the United States and that members of Congress know their districts better than almost anybody else, and their judgment as to how we can invest in helping their districts is best made by the members, not by others,” Hoyer told reporters. 

The push to restore earmarks with reforms has been underway since the last session of Congress. The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress recommended allowing congressionally directed spending with reforms as a way to “reduce dysfunction” in the annual budget process.

A series of scandals in the mid-to-late 2000s led to scrutiny over the practice of lawmakers directing spending toward projects in their districts, such as Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps Overnight Energy: Biden admin backs Trump approval of major Alaska drilling project | Senate Republicans pitch 8 billion for infrastructure | EPA to revise Trump rule limiting state authority to block pipelines Biden signs bill to help Alaska cruise industry MORE (R-Alaska) securing $223 million for the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in 2005 that would have connected a tiny island with the town of Ketchikan and former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) accepting millions in bribes in return for directing tens of millions in funding toward defense contracts.

Cunningham served eight years in prison after pleading guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes. Former President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE pardoned Cunningham in his final hours in office last month.