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House GOP still divided over earmark report

A select group of House Republicans tasked to make recommendations on reforming the earmark process are divided and have been unable to agree to a final report.

The division means the report will be further delayed past the Feb. 16 deadline originally set by Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE (R-Ohio), who told reporters on Tuesday that the Select Committee on Earmark Reform would release its recommendations this week.
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BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE extended the deadline to give the panel more time to iron out the wrinkles. At a press conference last week the leader announced that the report would be ready for release before March 6th. The select panel's work has gone under the radar likely due to the series of crises saturating the news.

Members disagree over whether the report should recommend that the GOP conference end earmarking, even as GOP Senators and Democrats continue to put aside money in appropriations bill for local projects.
 
Several lawmakers on the 10-member committee, formed last November, told The Hill that every panelist has distinct views on the matter and they have been unable to agree on what recommendations to include in the report.

"We all have differences of opinion as to what we should do," task force panelist Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told The Hill in an interview. “How do you make it binding? It ought to be something that applies to Republicans and Democrats House and Senate and the administration if they are going to reform the earmark process. All of us need to be involved in this process if we’re going to reform the earmark process.”

Even if House Republicans as a conference decide to do away with earmarks, it's doubful Democrats will adopt the GOP recommendations. Boehner has asked Democrats to appoint members of the majority to the earmark reform panel, but they refused. Democrats also rejected a GOP recommendation in 2008 to place a moratorium on earmarks.

Still, a GOP conference decision to drop earmarks could make a strong political point for Republicans at a time when they are in a deep minority and are trying to highlight their differences with Democrats.

Earmarks remain popular with members of both parties. An omnibus spending bill approved by the House last week included $3.8 billion in earmarks, nearly half of which were sponsored by Republicans.
 
Select Committee member Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers McSally concedes Arizona Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare front and center; transition standoff continues MORE (R-Ariz.) said that in order to make the earmark reform meaningful, his party would have to be willing to forgo any and all earmarks, regardless of what the Democrats do.

The anti-earmark crusader notorious for challenging individual pork projects on the House floor, however, was pessimistic that House Republicans would unilaterally give up earmarks.

“There’s some of us who think this only matters if it’s something that we are all prepared to go alone on,” Flake said. “With the omnibus last week, I thought it was completely devastating ... immediately everybody says ‘same old, same old,’ and they are right.”

Select Committee on Earmark Reform Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees | Peterson loss prompts scramble for House Agriculture chair Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees Conservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform MORE (R-Wash.) was optimistic that the report would be released sooner rather than later, despite the “very strong opinions around the table.” She said that makes her job as chairwoman “festive” and “feisty.”

According to an aide with McMorris Rodgers, the select panel is set to meet with members of the GOP leadership this week.

The panel was tasked by Boehner to deliver a report “with recommendations for changing Washington’s broken spending practices.”


Boehner made sure to select ten-members who represent the GOP conference's varied stances on earmark spending: two members of the powerful appropriations committee, several members of authorizing committees, the former ranking member on the ethics committee and several members of the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee. The Select Committee on Earmark has met 5-6 times since mid-December.

House Republican Reps. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOn The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Momentum grows for bipartisan retirement bill in divided Congress MORE (Texas), Judy Biggert (Ill.), Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesBottom line Selection of Sarah Makin-Acciani shows the commitment to religious liberty Too much ‘can do,’ not enough candor MORE (Va.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), John Mica (Fla.), Zach Wamp (Tenn.) serve on the panel with McMorris Rodgers, Simpson and Flake.