Top Senate Democrat announces return of earmarks
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, formally announced on Monday a return to earmarks, offering details for how the spending will work in the Senate.
“Today I’m announcing that the Senate Appropriations Committee will again accept requests for congressionally directed spending items on a bipartisan basis, requests of both the Republican leadership and Democratic leadership and will do so in a manner that promotes accountability and transparency,” Leahy said from the Senate floor.
Under the rules for requesting the congressional spending, lawmakers can not request spending for an item related to their financial interest or those of their immediate family and the request must be made in writing. The committee will also publicly disclose the requests online.
Leahy is also implementing new rules, which align with a proposal from House Democrats earlier this year. Money for earmarks will be capped at 1 percent of discretionary spending, which Republicans have estimated will amount to roughly $4 billon per side.
There will also be a ban on requesting the earmarks to go toward for-profit entities. 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.
Supporters of restoring the congressional spending argue that it shifts power back to Congress because, otherwise, the administration would be making decisions on where to send the government funding.
“We ceded the power of the purse to unelected bureaucrats here in Washington when we reinstituted a ban on congressionally directed spending,” Leahy said.
Leahy’s announcement comes after his House counterpart, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) unveiled the House Democratic plan in February.
House Republicans have also lifted the earmark ban in their caucus rules.
Senate Republicans technically upheld their own earmark ban when they affirmed their rules last week. But top GOP senators said it wasn’t binding and expect Republicans who want to request earmarks will do so.
“That doesn’t mean anything. … It’s up to the individual,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said after the closed-door vote. “If you don’t want to earmark, don’t ask for one.”