GOP  leaders’ votes split on striking out earmarks

Reps. 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 (Ohio), Adam Putnam (Fla.) and Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorGOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (Va.) are the only Republican leaders who have voted for more than half of the anti-earmark amendments offered on the House floor since the 2006 election.

GOP leaders are grappling with how to deal with earmarks in the wake of losing control of Congress amid frustration from the Republican base that spending on lawmakers’ pet projects has gotten out of control.

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In 2007, there were 50 provisions offered on the House floor that proposed killing earmarks, according to the Club for Growth, a conservative group that has been critical of earmarks.

Minority Leader 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 – who is one of a handful of lawmakers who does not pursue earmarks — voted 60 percent of the time to strip earmarks while Conference Chair Putnam’s figure was 54 percent.

Chief Deputy Whip Cantor voted for 82 percent of the amendments.

House Minority Whip Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm Top Democrat demands answers on election equipment vulnerabilities Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems MORE (R-Mo.) voted for 22 percent of the amendments while Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) voted to eliminate only one earmark.

Some Republican leaders dismiss many of the 50 amendments as political tools that are aimed at ginning up publicity.

Boehner was the sole GOP leader who voted to eradicate the earmark that attracted a majority of votes on the floor last year: a $129,000 provision for the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree Project, sponsored by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).

However, most of the Republican votes for the amendments — 31 of them offered by Rep. 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.) — sought to kill Democratic earmarks.

 Like Boehner, House Democratic leaders — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) and Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) — all voted to cut McHenry’s project. None of these leaders voted to kill another earmark in 2007.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) does not usually register roll call votes.

 McCotter said it was pointless to vote for removing earmarks that make a “horrible bill less terrible,” adding that many of the amendments offered are done so for purely political purposes. Instead, he said he chooses to vote against the whole bill, even when his earmarks are at stake. {mospagebreak}

 “Part of being policy chair is to understand the legislative process,” McCotter said. “I just know that many of those are attempts to get headlines, so I vote against the whole bill and try to save the taxpayers money.”

Blunt said that his votes were based on the merits.

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“I could explain each vote to you if we sat down and went through them,” he said. “It’s on a case-by-case basis.”

 Nevertheless, votes by Boehner and other senior GOP members to strip earmarks are on a noticeable uptick when compared to 2006. Cantor was the only Republican leader who voted to cut earmarks when considering Flake’s 19 amendments that went to a roll call vote that year.

House GOP leaders are now trying to go on offense on earmarks. In a Jan. 25 letter to Pelosi, Republicans called for the establishment of a bipartisan panel aimed at reducing “pork-barrel spending.” They also called for an earmark moratorium while the panel studied the issue.

While viewed by some as a challenge to Democrats, the letter has led to criticism from fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party. They believe GOP members should lead by example and agree to a yearlong moratorium on their own earmarks — rather than wait for the majority party. Democrats have essentially shrugged off the letter, pointing out they cut earmark use last year and made the process more transparent.

Anti-earmark groups note, however, that “airdropped” earmarks have not been banned. These are earmarks that are slipped into conference bills at the last moments before a bill is passed.

Still, earmark use does not divide the Democratic base like it does the GOP establishment.

Boehner and other senior Republicans did not vote last year to cut funding for earmarks that many fiscal conservatives have deemed among the most egregious. For example, Putnam and Cantor voted to cut $2 million in funds for the Charles B. Rangel Center in Harlem, New York, which was sponsored by the New York lawmaker. Boehner, Blunt and McCotter voted to retain the earmark.

 “That’s unfortunate,” said Flake when asked about his party leaders’ vote counts for his and others’ anti-earmark amendments. “We can have real earmark reform if Republicans demanded it.”

President Bush criticized earmarks during his State of the Union address last week, vowing to veto appropriations bills unless the number of earmarks and their costs are cut in half.

 GOP leaders  along with other lawmakers will have another chance to cut earmarks this year. Flake predicted the battles over earmarks will be in the forefront for future appropriations bills.

 “Watch closely,” said the Arizona Republican. “We will have more amendments coming to the floor this year.”