House Republicans mull earmark changes

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – House Republicans met at the Greenbrier Hotel Friday afternoon to discuss whether they should embrace significant earmark reform, which may include a moratorium on  earmarking until 2009.

According to sources familiar with the discussions inside the room, the idea of the ban has caught on as a growing number of members are warming to a pork-free diet.

The sources said an initial vote taken to gauge interest in the moratorium revealed more interest than previously thought. However, it is far from certain how House Republicans will proceed.

The negotiations could continue Friday night and go into Saturday morning, according to other sources familiar with the discussions.

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“The earmark process has become a symbol of a broken Washington,” Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAmash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise A cautionary tale for Justin Amash from someone who knows Border funding bill highlights the problem of 'the Senate keyhole' MORE (R-Ohio) said in a statement about the discussions. “If we’re going to earn back our majority, we have to show the American people we’ll fix it.”

He added, “There are various views on earmarks within our Conference. But we can all agree the status quo is unacceptable.”

The moratorium proposal was unveiled last week by conservative Reps. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas).

{mospagebreak}Another reform option that could be used in conjunction with the ban is backed by a group of House Republican appropriators, including Reps. Jack Kingston (Ga.), Frank WolfFrank Rudolph WolfDOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling Vulnerable Republican keeps focus as Democrats highlight Trump Bolton could be the first national security chief to prioritize religious freedom MORE (Va.) and Zach Wamp (Tenn.).  Their plan would establish a bicameral bipartisan committee that would study and make recommendations on how the earmark system should be reformed .

Approximately 130 House Republicans donning a mixture of bright-colored sweaters and blue business casual blazers attended the party retreat to the newly renovated historical hotel, which began Thursday and ends on Saturday.  

Addressing the group for the last time before his final State of the Union address, President Bush previewed his speech by highlighting two issues that he said Congress must act upon quickly: passing the economic stimulus package and reauthorizing the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which expires Feb. 1. Bush warned lawmakers against adding addition projects and spending to the $150 billion stimulus package.

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“Congress should move it quickly,” he said. “And I understand the desire to add provisions from both the right and the left. I strongly believe it would be a mistake to delay or derail this bill.”

Bush also called on GOP members to work to make his tax cuts permanent, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Bush reminded lawmakers that without action on FISA, monitoring potential transmissions of intelligence from terrorists becomes more difficult for those in the intelligence community.

“Unfortunately, the bill is set to expire in seven days,” said Bush. “The threat to America does not expire in seven days.”

During a closed-door meeting, members inquired about FISA and other pending issues. But Bush’s teasing of Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), who was “hovering” around the microphone waiting for a turn to speak, was the highlight of the question-and-answer session, according to sources inside the room.